After his dramatic departure just over two months ago, the former Pope, Benedict XVI, returned to the Vatican today to take up residence in a small monastery inside Vatican walls. On February 28th the newly resigned Ben XVI took off from the Vatican in a helicopter and whirred over the city as thousands of people gathered on Roman roof-tops and terraces, piazzas and streets to wave goodbye. The 85-year-old retired to Castel Gandolfo — the Pope’s summer residence on a lake outside of Rome — while he waited for renovations to be finished on the “Mater Ecclesiae” monastery. He said he was going to live “hidden from the world.”
Following his departure were the heady days leading up to the Conclave and the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to become the next Pope, Pope Francis. Benedict XVI was briefly seen looking suprisingly unsteady and weak in a video released by the Vatican on March 23rd after a visit by Pope Francis to Castel Gandolfo. The video prompted questions about his declining health.
Today the Vatican released a photo of the two Popes who will be neighbors, and anyone familiar with Vatican etiquette cannot help but be struck by seeing these two men both dressed so similarly in white. It is uncanny.
Unlike Benedict’s departure, which was broadcast live by Vatican TV around the world, today’s re-entry was a low-key affair with no TV coverage provided by the Vatican. The photo above of the helicopter, taken by AP’s Gregorio Borgia, was from a location outside Vatican walls.
Benedict XVI’s ever loyal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein — who flew away with him, was also on the helicopter today for the re-entry. If you look carefully, you can see Ganswein in the photo released by the Vatican peering around the edge of the doorway and smiling approvingly at the two Popes. Ganswein and the Memores Domini, the four consecrated women who cook and clean for the two men will join them in the Monastery. (See post on Georg Ganswein Padre Georg: The Vatican Heart-Throb)
A Vatican statement noted that the Pope will be — as he said himself on February 11th — serving the church by dedicating himself to prayer. Apparently, he will also be playing the piano. Reportedly, his piano has been moved from the Papal apartments into the monastery.
The statement also noted that the Monastery was built over 20 years by Pope John Paul II and has housed various different orders of clositered nuns over the past two decades, among them Carmelites and Benedictines. For the moment, no more nuns will be living in the monastery.
Interestingly, for the time being Pope Francis has chosen to live in the Santa Marta Residence and not in the Papal Apartments, so although there are now two Popes within the Vatican walls, neither one is living in the Apostolic Palace.
Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in 600 years, and he will be the first former Pope to continue living at the Vatican. We will see how it works.