(Vatican Radio) Expectations were high among the thousands of people who huddled into
Castel Gandolfo’s tiny Freedom Square Saturday morning. The families, religious and
teenagers gathered there had hoped to catch a glimpse of the momentous encounter between
Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. Emer McCarthy reports:
But they were destined to be disappointed. The event was, as it was always meant to be, a private moment of “profound and elevated communion” between the past and present Pope.
The crowds, joined by a surprisingly large number of journalists, had gathered early in the morning, well before Pope Francis’ departure from Vatican City State at noon. As his helicopter circled twice above the Square they began chanting his name and that of his predecessor who has been in residence at the Pontifical Villas since February 28th .
Speaking to journalists after the encounter, Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, relayed the details of the meeting, the first in person between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI.
He said Benedict XVI was waiting to greet Pope Francis as he alighted from the helicopter. That the Pope Emeritus dressed in a simple white cassock and jacket without the papal sash and cape thus distinguishing him from Pope Francis.
Fr. Lombardi described the beautiful embrace that the men shared before making their way to the Apostolic Palace. On their arrival they immediately made their way to the Chapel for a moment of prayer. There, Benedict XVI invited Pope Francis to take the pew reserved to the Holy Father. But Pope Francis responded “we are brothers” and insisted that the two kneel together in prayer at the same pew.
The Holy Father also brought a gift for his predecessor, an icon of Our Lady of Humility, as a gift for Benedict XVI's great humility. The two men then spent an estimated 45 minutes in private conversation in the Library before emerging to lunch with two secretaries.
The intensely reserved nature of the encounter confirms what Benedict XVI had confided to the priests of Rome in his last meeting with them as Pope on February 14th when he said: “Although I am retiring now, I will always be close in prayer, and you will be close to me, even if I remain hidden away from the world".
Further underling the deep communion between these two men, Fr. Lombardi reminded journalists that since his election to the Papacy Francis has twice telephoned the Pope Emeritus and warmly referred to him in all of his public speeches.
Benedict XVI also accompanied Pope Francis to the heliport of the Papal Summer Residence Saturday afternoon on his return to Vatican City State. The Holy Father is due to lead celebrations for Palm Sunday in St Peter’s Square, at 10 am local time.
Benedict XVI will return to the Vatican once renovation work is completed on the cloistered monastery, Mater Ecclesiae, that will become his permanent residence.