CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Brief video clips and a short briefing from the Vatican spokesman gave observers a glimpse of a historic moment filled with touching gestures — the visit today of Pope Francis to his predecessor, the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis arrived shortly after noon by helicopter in the gardens of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Benedict has been staying since his Feb. 28 resignation. While the two have spoken by telephone at least twice, this was their first meeting since Pope Francis’ March 13 election.
Pope Benedict, wearing a quilted white jacket over a simple white cassock, was driven to the garden heliport to greet his successor. But Pope Benedict is moving even more slowly than he was a month ago, and Pope Francis walked down the helicopter steps reaching out to Pope Benedict.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said they both got in the car to go to the villa. Pope Francis sat on the right — the spot reserved for the pope — and Pope Benedict sat on the left.
As soon as they entered the villa, the two went to the chapel. Pope Francis walked in first, turning to reach out to Pope Benedict and help him to one of the pews. Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict indicated Pope Francis should take the front bench, but Pope Francis said, “We are brothers,” and the two knelt in prayer side by side.
They spent 45 minutes talking alone. Pope Francis gave Pope Benedict an icon of Our Lady of Humility, saying that when he received it, he immediately thought of Pope Benedict.
The two had lunch together at Castel Gandolfo, then went for a short walk. Pope Francis left about two and half hours after he arrived.
Hundreds of people who were gathered in the main square outside the papal villa were left disappointed. They had hoped the two popes — one reigning, one emeritus — would come to the balcony together.
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.”