CASTEL GANDOLFO — Pope Francis met with Benedict XVI on Saturday for the first time since his selection, an historic visit that took place in a fraternal atmosphere.
“We are brothers,” Pope Francis told his predecessor before praying side-by-side with him at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.
The March 23 encounter marked the first face-to-face meeting between the two since the March 13 election of the new Pope. The encounter is a unique moment in the history of the Church, which has not had a papal resignation in centuries.
Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio about the meeting.
He said there was “a moving embrace between the two” as they first met on the grounds of the Pontifical Villas.
Both wore a simple white cassock. Benedict XVI toted a white jacket against the cool mountain air. Francis was dressed in the white sash and cape of the pontiff.
A small entourage of at least six accompanied the two for the short drive from the heliport to the residence at Castel Gandolfo Benedict XVI has called home since his resignation on Feb. 28. Those present included Archbishop Georg Ganswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI, who remains prefect of the pontifical household.
Upon arrival, the Pope and his predecessor first prayed together in the chapel and then retired to the papal library. There, they spoke for the better part of an hour.
Father Lombardi was unable to share any of the content of their confidential discussions. He did discuss a present Pope Francis gave to Benedict XVI. Pope Francis brought an icon of Our Lady of Humility “as a gift for Benedict XVI’s great humility,” the Vatican spokesman said.
“You gave us a great example of humility and tenderness,” Pope Francis told his predecessor, according to the recording of the event made by Vatican Television Center.
International media have put much emphasis on Pope Francis’ evident simplicity and humility in his first days. Some reports insinuate a contrast from the last pontificate, but Benedict XVI too is often described as “meek” by those who know him.
Though this was their first meeting in person, the two had already been in contact since the Argentine Pope’s election on March 13. Francis called him directly on the night of his election and again for the Pope’s name day, the March 19 feast of St. Joseph.
Before Benedict XVI stepped down on Feb. 28, he had declared to the College of Cardinals his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his eventual successor.
Father Lombardi said the Saturday meeting was “a moment of profound and elevated communion.”
He said Benedict XVI “had the opportunity to renew this act of reverence and obedience to his successor, and certainly Pope Francis renewed his gratitude and that of the whole Church for Pope Benedict’s ministry during his pontificate.”