ROME – Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI turns 90 next month, but according to his closest aide, his advanced age hasn’t yet created any truly serious health challenges aside from a basic problem with walking without assistance.
“Pope Benedict is in good shape,” said German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Prefect of the Papal Household for Pope Francis and also private secretary to Pope Benedict.
“What bothers him most are his legs,” Gänswein said, “so he uses a walker for help, and he gets along very well.”
Gänswein made the comments in a brief interview with Vatican Radio.
“Otherwise, he’s quite clear in his head, and quite bright,” he said. “He participates in everything. He reads, he prays, he listens to music, and he has visitors.”
“Every day he takes a little walk while praying his rosary, so he’s doing the same thing he did at the beginning of his time as the pope emeritus,” Gänswein said.
Gänswein suggested Benedict is still a voracious reader, but refused to be drawn into conversation about what exactly is on his reading table right now.
“Naturally he remains a theologian, but he doesn’t just read theology,” Gänswein said. “Specifically what he’s reading, of course, I won’t betray, but his interests are very wide.”
Literature, however, apparently isn’t Benedict’s only pastime. According to Gänswein, the emeritus pope also watches TV, including the news.
“When his brother is here, the German news is on,” Gänswein said, referring to the emeritus pope’s 93-year-old brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger.
“If his brother isn’t here, then the pope watches the news in Italian, since he lives in Italy,” Gänswein said.
Gänswein also said that the pope reads the Vatican newspaper every day, L’Osservatore Romano, and other sources to “inform himself and know what’s going on in the world.”
In terms of the retired pontiff’s visitors, Gänswein said they come from “different nations, different ages, different professions.” Some, he said, are people he’s known over the years, while others are people who have never seen him before.
“There are so many requests,” Gänswein joked, “that he ought to work overtime!”
Part of what may help keep the nearly 90-year-old Ratzinger on track, according to Gänswein, is the regularity with which he divides each day – beginning, as it always has, he said, with the celebration of morning Mass.
Each Sunday, Gänswein said, Pope Benedict delivers a homily at Mass for his small household, composed of Gänswein and several female members of “Memores Domini,” a community of consecrated lay women associated with the Communion and Liberation movement.
“We pay attention to what he preaches, because he speaks freely,” Gänswein said. “He may make some notes, but then he preaches, and we’re trying to focus on what he says.”
That said, Gänswein did not say that there are any plans to publish either extracts or the full text of Benedict’s homilies, as now happens with the impromptu homilies Pope Francis delivers each day at morning Mass at the Santa Marta residence on Vatican grounds where he resides.