Pope Francis travelled to Rome by helicopter today for lunch with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
It was the first meeting between a reigning pope and a former pope in at least 600 years. The two men prayed together at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence where Benedict has been living since his abdication, and spoke alone for around 45 minutes before having something to eat.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the there was a “family-like” atmosphere during the three-hour visit.
In the chapel, Benedict offered the place of honour – a kneeler before the altar – to Francis. But his successor declined, saying: “We are brothers, we pray together.”
Francis brought a gift, an icon of the Madonna, and told his elder that it’s known as the “Madonna of Humility”.
“I thought of you,” Francis said. “You gave us so many signs of humility and gentleness in your pontificate.” Benedict replied: “Grazie, grazie.”
Footage showed Benedict and Pope Francis both dressed in nearly identical white clerical garb, including white skull caps, embracing shortly after the helicopter landed at the large estate.
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.
Benedict’s decision to be known as “Pope Emeritus” caused some controversy in the Vatican. It was suggested that in renouncing the papacy he had “lost all the power of primacy” conferred on him by his election as pope. It was believed he would instead choose the title “emeritus bishop of Rome”, and some people saw his new title as a sign that his allies would attempt to undermine the new Church leader.
However, in his very last meeting with his Cardinals in February, Benedict pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to the then-unknown future pope. Father Lombardi said he repeated that pledge to Francis today.