(Photo: CNS photo/L’Oss ervatore Romano via Reuters)
In an unprecedented move, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who became the first pope in almost 600 years to retire when he stepped down at the end of February due to health reasons, has returned to the Vatican to live next to Pope Francis.
"He is a man who is not young: He is old and his strength is slowly ebbing," said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, according to the Associated Press. "However, there is no special illness. He is an old man who is healthy."
Benedict will now live in a converted monastery right behind St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Francis lives. It was previously believed that he would live out the rest of his days "hidden in the world" in a papal residence in the hill south of Rome, but now he will share the famous Vatican gardens with the newly elected Roman Catholic Church leader.
In March, Francis took time off to visit Benedict at his retirement home, saying that they are "brothers."
"I thought of you," Francis told Benedict. "You gave us so many signs of humility and gentleness in your pontificate."
The Vatican noted that the two spoke privately for about 40 minutes over lunch. The 86-year-old pope emeritus has appeared frail in recent sightings. He cited his advanced age and health for his decision to step down from the papacy. Although taking the title "emeritus pope" and "Your Holiness" rather than "emeritus bishop of Rome," Benedict has insisted that he will not interfere in matters with the Vatican and will only give advice if or when Pope Francis asks for it.
Despite a number of news headlines portraying Pope Francis as very different from his predecessor for his decision to spur some Vatican traditions and live a more modest lifestyle, the new Roman Catholic leader has always spoken out warmly about Benedict, and has called him up on half a dozen occasions.
The New York Times noted that Benedict will live with his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, and four lay nuns of the Memores Domini association, who will help with his daily needs. A guest room has also been set aside for Benedict's older brother, Georg Ratzinger, who is also a priest.
The converted monastery had been occupied in the past 20 years by a number of orders of cloistered nuns, whose purpose was to pray for the pope and the Roman Catholic Church – a spiritual task that Benedict has pledged to uphold.