Saturday, March 23, 2013

"We Are Brothers": Two Popes, Together

...and here it is: in a moment without precedent in the 2,000-year annals of the Roman church, two Popes together in life.

Ten days after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as the 266th pontiff, the three-hour meeting between Pope Francis and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI  at Castel Gandolfo included lunch and a 45-minute private discussion. 

The new Pope arrived by helicopter at the papal "Camp David" in the Alban Hills shortly after noon local time, his now-retired predecessor – the first pontiff to voluntarily depart the office in over six centuries – having come to welcome him at the nearby heliport.

According to a briefing from the lead Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, when the duo entered the villa's chapel for a moment of prayer, Benedict emphatically motioned at Francis to take the single armchair and pre-dieu reserved for the Pope. 

Instead, the pontiff told his predecessor, "No – we are brothers," gesturing for them to kneel side by side in the same pew, which they did.

While hundreds of faithful and media alike waited in the square outside the villa's front portal, hoping to see (and even chanting for) an appearance from the twin Popes on the balcony above, none was made.

Having given his predecessor an icon of Our Lady of Humility "in gratitude for [Benedict's] pontificate" before departing (below), Francis returned to the Vatican by helicopter shortly before 3pm.

Temporarily in residence at Castel – a place for which he's had an immense fondness – since his resignation on 28 February, Benedict is expected to return to Vatican City in late April or May, when renovations are completed on his new home, a former convent in the gardens. 

In an address to the priests of Rome shortly before his emotional departure – on which he pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to whoever would be chosen to succeed him – Benedict said that he would be "hidden from the world" in his post-papacy, yet close by in prayer and spirit.

While maintaining the papal white, in a concession to his new status, B16's cassock did not include a shoulder-cape, nor did he wear the white watered-silk sash. 

Likewise, as the Fisherman's Ring he received at his 2005 inaugural was destroyed on his departure from office – in keeping with long-standing tradition for the end of a Pope's reign – as foreseen, Papa Ratzinger has taken to wearing a copy of the "Council ring," the unadorned gold band given by Paul VI to the Fathers of Vatican II at the gathering's close in December 1965.

Meanwhile, as he still acclimates to the papacy – while upending many of its long-standing conventions at a rapid clip – tomorrow's Palm Sunday Mass opens Francis' first turn at Holy Week, traditionally the most intense and high-profile period of a Pope's calendar. 

As previously noted, the Vatican announced on Thursday that the new pontiff has decided to open Catholicism's holiest period of the year – the Easter Triduum – by celebrating his Holy Thursday evening Mass at Rome's youth prison, as opposed to one of the city's major basilicas, which have hosted the rite for centuries.

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The meeting's highlights recorded by cameras from the CTV – Vatican television – here's the official clipreel as syndicated by the lead Italian daily, La Repubblica:

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano