In a historic meeting, Pope Francis has paid a visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with the new Pope telling his predecessor "we are brothers".
The Pope set off from the Vatican by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, a 15 minute flight away, where Benedict was waiting to greet him, according to a statement from the Vatican. Both men, dressed in white, embraced warmly.
The meeting lasted just over two hours, and included a 15 minute prayer session, followed by a private meeting in the Pope emeritus' library, and a lunch with advisors.
Recently elected Pope Francis (L) and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, meet at the helicopter pad of the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters: "When Pope Francis arrived, the Pope Emeritus approached him and there was a beautiful hug between the two.
"Then, after brief greetings also to the other people - the bishop of Albano and the Director of the Pontifical Villas, Petrillo - they got in the car: Pope Francis sat on the right, then place in the tradition of the Pope, and the Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus sat on the left."
Upon arrival, the two went into the chapel to pray. In the chapel, the Pope emeritus offered the place of honour to Pope Francis, but he said: "We are brothers," and he insisted they knelt together at the same table, a Vatican spokesman said.
Francis also brought a gift to Benedict, an icon of the Madonna, and told him that it's known as the "Madonna of Humility."
"I thought of you," Francis told Benedict. "You gave us so many signs of humility and gentleness in your pontificate." Benedict replied: "Grazie, grazie."
Lombardi added: "It should be noted, with regard to the clothing, which actually - as we mentioned earlier - the Pope emeritus wears a simple cassock white, without the sash and without mantelletta [a sleeveless, knee-length, vest-like garment]: are the two details which distinguish it, instead, from clothing of Pope Francis which also has a mantelletta and sash."
Recently elected Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, pray together
He said the retired Pope had "expressed his unconditional reverence and obedience to his successor at the meeting with the Cardinals on February 28.
"This meeting - which was a time of high , deep communion - was an opportunity to renew this act of reverence and obedience to his successor, and certainly Pope Francis has renewed his expressions of his gratitude and of the whole Church for the ministry of Pope Benedict during his pontificate."
Outside the villa in the main piazza of Castel Gandolfo, crowds chanted the name of the new pope, "Francesco! Francesco!". But they were robbed of the chance to see both together, as the two did not come to the balcony side-by-side.
Benedict has been living at the villa, which is the papal summer retreat, since he officially retired on February 28, the first pope to step down in 600 years.
Father Lombardi told reporters the meeting was “the culmination” of major events in the life of the church over the past month, the prayerful and successful transition of the papacy. The meeting, he said, was “a sign of communion.”
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