ROME— In his second public address in three years, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday thanked Pope Francis for his leadership, telling him that his goodness moves him more than the beauty of the Vatican Gardens and is a place “where I feel protected.”
“Thank you, Holy Father, for your goodness, which from the first moment of your election, to every moment of my life here, has touched my heart,” Benedict told Francis in improvised remarks at a celebration to mark the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
Before going on to thank other members of the college of cardinals who were present in the ceremony, he added: “We hope that you can go forward with all of us on this path of divine mercy, showing us the path of Jesus toward God.”
Benedict’s remarks came during the ceremony in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, which marked a first: never before has a reigning pope honored a retired one.
When the pope entered the room he went straight to embrace his predecessor, who removed his white skullcap in a sign of deference. Returning the sign of respect, Pope Francis addressed Benedict as “Your Holiness,” and thanked him for his years of service to the Church.
“You, Your Holiness, continue to serve the Church,” Francis told him. “Do not cease contributing with true vigor and wisdom to her growth; and you do so from that small Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican.”
The monastery, founded by St. John Paul II in the early 1990s within Vatican grounds, is where Benedict has lived since his resignation.
Francis said his predecessor’s residence is “not at all like those forgotten corners where today’s ‘throwaway culture’ tends to put those who lose their strength with age.”
Rather, Benedict’s home was like the Portiuncola, Francis said, referring to the little church in the Italian city of Assisi where St. Francis founded his order and spent his last days.
Mater Ecclesia, said the pope, was a “Franciscan” place from which emanates “tranquility, peace, strength, faithfulness, maturity, faith, dedication and fidelity that do me so much good and give strength to me and to the whole Church.”
Although this is only the second time the German pontiff has spoken publicly since his resignation he has delivered other messages. These communications have been delivered via intermediaries.
Earlier this year, for instance, he asked the Vatican’s press office to release a statement to scotch rumors that there is more to the third secret of Fatima than what was revealed during John Paul II’s papacy in 2000.
True to form, in his five-minute remarks Benedict delivered an improvised theology lesson, focusing on the Greek word Efkaristomen which translates as: “let us give thanks.”
This word, he said, refers not only to human thanksgiving but also to the phrase “Giving thanks, he broke it and gave it,” which appears in the Gospel depiction of the the Last Supper as well as in the Mass. Catholic tradition holds that at this moment Jesus transformed wine and bread into his flesh and blood.
Benedict explained that Jesus transformed “the Cross, suffering and all of the evil in the world” into thanksgiving.
He closed his short remarks with a “thanks” to the Lord, saying that with his help the world can be “transubstantiated” and transformed into “a world not of death but of life, a world in which love has overcome death.”
Pope Francis has often praised his predecessor. Last Sunday, on his way back from Armenia, he was asked about remarks made by a close aide to Benedict that there is now a “shared” papacy, with one active pope and a contemplative one.
No, said Francis, he was the only pope, joking that at one time in history “there were three of us.” But he went on to describe Benedict as “the wise grandfather,” the one who “protects my shoulders and back with his prayer.”
He also gave some insight into the relationship the two have had in the last three years, saying he’s visited Benedict “many times,” that the two also speak on the phone, and that his predecessor had even sent him a written note prior to his visit to Armenia.