(Vatican Radio) Expectations were high among the thousands of people who huddled into
Castel Gandolfo’s tiny Freedom Square Saturday morning. The families, religious and
teenagers gathered there had hoped to catch a glimpse of the momentous encounter between
Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. Emer McCarthy reports:
But they were
destined to be disappointed. The event was, as it was always meant to be, a private
moment of “profound and elevated communion” between the past and present Pope.
crowds, joined by a surprisingly large number of journalists, had gathered early
in the morning, well before Pope Francis’ departure from Vatican City State at noon.
As his helicopter circled twice above the Square they began chanting his name and
that of his predecessor who has been in residence at the Pontifical Villas since February
Speaking to journalists after the encounter, Holy See Press
Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, relayed the details of the meeting, the first
in person between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI.
He said Benedict XVI was
waiting to greet Pope Francis as he alighted from the helicopter. That the Pope Emeritus
dressed in a simple white cassock and jacket without the papal sash and cape thus
distinguishing him from Pope Francis.
Fr. Lombardi described the beautiful
embrace that the men shared before making their way to the Apostolic Palace. On their
arrival they immediately made their way to the Chapel for a moment of prayer. There,
Benedict XVI invited Pope Francis to take the pew reserved to the Holy Father. But
Pope Francis responded “we are brothers” and insisted that the two kneel together
in prayer at the same pew.
The Holy Father also brought a gift for his predecessor,
an icon of Our Lady of Humility, as a gift for Benedict XVI's great humility. The
two men then spent an estimated 45 minutes in private conversation in the Library
before emerging to lunch with two secretaries.
The intensely reserved nature
of the encounter confirms what Benedict XVI had confided to the priests of Rome in
his last meeting with them as Pope on February 14th when he said: “Although
I am retiring now, I will always be close in prayer, and you will be close to me,
even if I remain hidden away from the world".
Further underling the deep communion
between these two men, Fr. Lombardi reminded journalists that since his election to
the Papacy Francis has twice telephoned the Pope Emeritus and warmly referred to him
in all of his public speeches.
Benedict XVI also accompanied Pope Francis
to the heliport of the Papal Summer Residence Saturday afternoon on his return to
Vatican City State. The Holy Father is due to lead celebrations for Palm Sunday in
St Peter’s Square, at 10 am local time.
Benedict XVI will return to the Vatican
once renovation work is completed on the cloistered monastery, Mater Ecclesiae, that
will become his permanent residence.