Pope Francis to meet Pontiff Emeritus Benedict today at papal summer residence
First time in at least 600 years that sitting pope has met his predecessor
Pope Francis greets ambassadors and diplomats from the 180 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See at the end of an audience at the Vatican yesterday. Photograph: Tony Gentile/AP Photo
In what could prove to be the photo opportunity of the year, newly elected Pope Francis will today lunch with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus, in the papal summer residence at Castelgandolfo, south of Rome. This will be the first time in at least 600 years that a sitting pope has met his predecessor.
Given the unprecedented nature of this meeting, details of just how it will play out remain uncertain. For example, given that this is a private encounter, it is not yet clear whether the two pontiffs will step out onto the balcony of the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo to salute the faithful in the village square.
From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis made several references to his predecessor, who resigned as pope on February 28th. On the night of his election, addressing the crowd from the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called for prayers for Benedict, while later that evening he exchanged a few words with him by phone.
Two days later, at a meeting with the cardinals, he paid tribute to his predecessor, saying that his faith and teaching had “enriched and invigorated the Catholic Church. Last Tuesday, on the day of his inauguration, Pope Francis also rang Benedict again to wish him well on St Joseph’s Day. Yesterday, in an address to the diplomatic corps, Francis spoke of both material and spiritual poverty, pointing out that his “beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI” had called the latter “the tyranny of relativism”.
In all probability, Francis’s careful regard for Benedict is intended to dispel speculation about any possible tensions between the two, given that Benedict will shortly move into a convent in the Vatican to live out his retirement years. Vatican analysts have expressed concern that the very presence of Benedict within the walls of the Vatican might in some way undermine the pontificate of Francis, especially if factions within the church were to use Benedict as their reference point.
With regard to the question of Francis’s record during the years of the Argentine military junta, the pope this week received a significant endorsement from Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. After meeting Francis in a private audience on Thursday, Mr Esquivel said “Fr Bergoglio [Francis] in no way colluded with the Argentine military dictatorship”.
Finally, Italian media speculation claims that Pope Francis is reluctant to move into the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace since he feels it is too big and too institutional.
At the moment, the pope is living in the Domus Santa Marta, a sort of hotel for cardinals in the Vatican. On Thursday, Rome daily Il Messaggero reported that he wants to remain there.