Pope Francis and predecessor pray together

Newly elected pope tells former pope Benedict XVI "We are brothers", in first such meeting in at least 600 years.

    Pope Francis and predecessor pray together
    "We are brothers, we pray together," Pope Francis said to Benedict, the papal spokesperson said [AFP]

    A reigning pope and a former pope have met for the first time in at least 600 years, as Pope Francis travelled south of Rome for lunch with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

    Francis, who was elected on March 13, flew by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict has been living since he abdicated on February 28.

    Footage released by the Vatican showed the two men, both dressed in nearly identical white clerical garb, including white skull caps, embracing shortly after the helicopter landed at the large estate.

    The only difference in garb is that Francis also wears a short white cape over his cassock and a white sash around his waist - both symbols of his authority. On Saturday, Benedict, who often suffered from chills, even indoors, wore a thick white vest over his cassock.

    They then rode in the same car to the residence where they prayed together, spoke alone for about 45 minutes and then had lunch accompanied by their two secretaries.

    Prayer fellowship

    Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi said the atmosphere for the entire visit, which lasted just under three hours, was "family-like".

    When they went to pray in the chapel, Benedict offered the place of honour, a kneeler before the altar, to Francis, who declined, saying, "We are brothers, we pray together", Lombardi said.

    Asked about the health of Benedict, who became the first pope in 600 years to resign instead of ruling for life, citing diminishing strength, Lombardi said: "It is normal, he is an old man."

    Benedict has been living temporarily in the summer residence in the Alban Hills and will move back to the Vatican after the restoration of a convent where he is expected to live for the rest of his life.

    Shortly before his resignation, Benedict, now 85, said he would be "withdrawing into prayer" and would live out his remaining days "hidden from the world".

    'Vatileaks' report

    In February, on the last day of his nearly eight years as leader of the Catholic Church, Benedict pledged his unconditional obedience to whoever would succeed him. Lombardi said the meeting "gave Benedict the opportunity, through his gestures" to renew his pledge personally.

    Before he resigned, Benedict left a secret report for Francis on the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal in which sensitive papal documents were stolen from the pope's desk and leaked to the media by his butler.

    Last year, the butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and sentenced by a Vatican court to 18 months in prison but Benedict pardoned him and he was freed last Christmas.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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