VATICAN CITY — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reportedly said that he retired from the papacy after a “mystical experience” and because “God told me to.”
The news comes from an anonymous source who visited the former pope a week ago, according to the Zenit news agency.
Asked why he resigned, the pope emeritus said, “God told me to,” but added that he had not received any kind of apparition or similar phenomenon. Rather, it was a “mystical experience” in which the Lord planted a seed of “absolute desire” in his heart “to remain alone with him, secluded in prayer.”
According to the source, this mystical experience has lasted throughout these past months, increasing “more and more” his longing for a unique and direct relationship with the Lord. It has not been an “escape” from the world, he reportedly said, but a means of seeking “refuge in God and living in his love.”
He also said that the more he sees of the “charisma” of his successor, Pope Francis, the more he realizes that his decision to resign the papacy was “the will of God.”
Despite living a cloistered life in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict XVI does occasionally receive visitors privately. A few weeks ago, a seminarian at the North American College was surprised to be invited to the pope emeritus’ quarters to have a private conversation.
But during these meetings, Benedict XVI remains very prudent and typically discreet. He doesn’t reveal any secrets or say anything that may weigh on the new pontificate. He wishes to avoid declarations that could be thought of as “words said by the other pope,” Zenit reported.
At most, he will express wonder at how the Holy Spirit is working through his successor or he will talk about how his decision to resign was the result of Divine inspiration.
Although the source of last week’s meeting is anonymous, various Vatican officials have confirmed the veracity of his remarks. A senior Curial official also told the Register that he believes the source is "reliable" and that the account "completes" what Benedict XVI has said about his resignation on previous occasions.
The news comes after Benedict XVI paid a three-hour visit to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo on Sunday. During his brief trip, he prayed the Rosary, took a stroll in the Vatican Gardens and attended a small, private piano recital held in his honor.
Pope Francis, who has chosen to stay in the Vatican to work, invited his predecessor to stay at Castel Gandolfo in his stead. Benedict reportedly turned down his offer in order to keep a low profile and to avoid drawing attention to himself when transferring to the papal villas.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
He will be a frequent contributor to EWTN News Nightly, which makes its debut Sept. 3.