Pope Francis has paid a heartfelt tribute to his predecessor Benedict XVI, saying his faith and teaching had “enriched and invigorated” the Catholic Church.
Francis offered the respects during an audience with the cardinals who elected him to succeed Benedict, whose resignation set in motion the extraordinary conclave that brought the first prelate from the New World and first Jesuit to the papacy.
Speaking at times off the cuff, Francis said Benedict had “lit a flame in the depths of our hearts that will continue to burn because it is fuelled by his prayers that will support the church on its missionary path”.
Francis, 76, tripped when he greeted the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, at the start of the audience, but he recovered immediately.
The new pope has said he wants to visit Benedict at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where he has been living since he resigned on February 28, becoming the first pope in 600 years to step down. No date has been set for the visit.
Francis is due to be installed as pope officially on Tuesday.
In his remarks, Francis also noted that a good half of the cardinals in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace were elderly, and he urged them to share the wisdom of their years with the young.
“Let us give this wisdom to young people; like good wine, it becomes better with age,” he said. “Let us give to young people the wisdom of life.”