The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 23, 2013

Pope Francis tells Benedict: ’We’re brothers’

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — The two men in white embraced and showed one another the deference owed a pope in ways that surely turned Vatican protocol upside down: A reigning pope telling a retired one, “We are brothers,” and insisting that they pray side-by-side during a date to discuss the future of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis traveled Saturday from the Vatican to this hilltown south of Rome to have lunch with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, an historic and potentially problematic melding of the papacies that has never before confronted the church.

In a season of extraordinary moments, starting with Benedict’s resignation and climaxing with the election of the first Latin American pope, Saturday’s encounter provided perhaps the most enduring images of this papal transition as popes present and past embraced, prayed and broke bread together.

“It was a moment of great communion in the church,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. “The spiritual union of these two people is truly a great gift and a promise of serenity for the church.”

Benedict, 85, has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo since he stepped down Feb. 28 and became the first pope to resign in 600 years. From the moment he was elected, Francis, 76, made clear he would go visit him, refusing in a way to let Benedict remain “hidden from the world” as he had intended.

Wearing a white quilted jacket over his white cassock to guard against the spring chill, Benedict greeted Francis on the helipad of the Castel Gandolfo gardens as soon as the papal helicopter landed. They embraced and clasped hands. And in a series of gestures that followed, Benedict made clear that he considered Francis to be pope while Francis made clear he considered his predecessor to be very much a revered brother and equal.

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