Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict embrace each other at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, June 30, 2015. / L’Osservatore Romano.
Vatican City, Jan 2, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
In the first hours after his election on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis thought of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Moments after making his first public appearance as pope, from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis said: “First of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and Our Lady may keep him.”
Leading the crowds in praying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for his predecessor, Pope Francis marked the beginning of what would become almost 10 years of a fraternal relationship between “the two popes.”
Ten days after his election, Pope Francis flew by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo to visit Benedict, where he was staying at the Pontifical Villas, before his return to the Vatican on May 2, 2013.
It was the first of numerous visits Pope Francis would make to his predecessor, usually for special occasions, such as Benedict’s birthday on April 16, for Christmas or other special anniversaries.
Benedict’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, revealed in 2014 that Pope Francis would always visit Benedict before taking an international trip.
In a book of published interviews in 2016, Benedict said he saw “a new joy” in Pope Francis’ pontificate, a papal reign that has “no contradictions” with his own.
“When I hear him speak, I become strong. I hear this story of the Church,” Pope Francis said in 2019.
“Every time I go to visit him I feel like that, I take his hand and get him to talk. He speaks little, slowly, but with the same depth, as always — because Benedict’s problem is his knees, not his head,” he said.
In 2022, Pope Francis called his predecessor “a prophet” for predicting that the Catholic Church would become a smaller but more faithful institution in the future.
The pope said he believed that this was one of the pope emeritus’ most “profound intuitions.”
Later the same year, Francis praised Benedict as a “leader” in responding to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
In 2016 Benedict, speaking publicly for the second time after his resignation, said Pope Francis’ “goodness is a place in which I feel protected.”
Speaking to Francis and a group of cardinals on the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination, the pope emeritus said: “Thank you, Holy Father — your goodness, from the first day of your election, every day of my life here moves me interiorly, brings me inwardly more than the Vatican Gardens.”
Pope Francis also visited Benedict XVI during his final days on this earth.
On Dec. 28, 2022, Francis paid a visit to the dying pope emeritus at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City.
Earlier on the same day, in his weekly public audience, he had asked for prayers for Benedict, whose health had taken a sudden turn.
“I ask to all of you a special prayer for the pope emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the Church,” he said.
“Remember him — he is very ill — asking the Lord to console him and to sustain him in this testimony of love for the Church until the end.”
Benedict XVI died three days later, on Dec. 31, 2022.