Pope and predecessor in face to face

A reigning pope and a former pope faced each other for the first time in at least 600 years on Saturday when Pope Francis travelled south of Rome for lunch with his predecessor, pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

Pope and predecessor in face to face

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

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

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 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. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the atmosphere for the visit, which lasted nearly 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. Footage showed the two men praying at the same pew.

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.

While Lombardi said there would be no statement on what the two discussed, it was likely that the conversation included problems of Vatican administration.

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.

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