Benedict XVI and Francis Both Decline Castel Gandolfo

Onlookers observe the crowds at last year's Mass on the Feast of the Assumption at Castel Gandolfo.
Onlookers observe the crowds at last year's Mass on the Feast of the Assumption at Castel Gandolfo. (photo: EP)

Despite a reigning and retired pope at the Vatican, the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo will again be bereft of a pontiff this year now that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reportedly let it be known he won’t be vacationing there.

According to Corriere della Sera Vaticanist Gian Guido Vecchi, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein said some time ago that, at one of the most recent meetings between the Pope and the former Pope, Benedict XVI asked Francis if he would at least be taking a small vacation this year having not had one in 2013.

“It was one of those conversations which, in their simplicity, they cover everything,” the prefect of the Pontifical Household said. “The Pope smiled and said no, he will remain in his place at the Vatican - also in Buenos Aires he never took holidays,” Archbishop Gaenswein recounted. “The Pope Emeritus smiled back and said, ‘Okay, then I also won't do it.’”

This is somewhat surprising as Benedict XVI has always been very partial to the summer residence, set among the Albano hills and overlooking a volcanic lake. The cooler weather and serenity of the surroundings helped him to rest, and after he took a fall on holiday in northern Italy in 2009, he spent his annual summer vacation in the town. He also lived his first three months of retirement there last year until his new home, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens, was renovated.

The town also won't benefit from the customary papal Mass on the Feast of the Assumption. Unlike last year Francis won’t be leading the celebration on August 15th as he will be visiting South Korea.  

To help offset the certain fall in tourism to the town, the Vatican has opened up the residence’s Bernini-landscaped gardens to the public, but for many of the townspeople who rely on the tourist trade, it will be a disappointing substitute for a papal visitor.

Benedict XVI may, however, escape for a day trip to the summer residence as he did last year. And given the advice from his aides to take a break after an intense year and concerns that might be having on his health, Pope Francis may also decide that a quick trip to the Castelli Romani is in order. So far, he will remain in the St. Martha residence where he will take a "working holiday". Like last year, he has scaled back for the summer: his daily public Masses in the St. Martha residence have been suspended until the end of August, and his weekly general audiences have been put on hold until August 6th.

One other revealing comment by Archbishop Gaenswein, also reported by Guido Vecchi, is the frequency with which the Pope and Pope Emeritus are in touch – possibly more than most people think. “They write, telephone, listen and invite one another,” he said. “Francis has been to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery at different times, and also Benedict has been to St. Martha.”