ROME – On Thursday Benedict XVI made his first trip outside of Italy since his retirement, heading to Regensburg, Germany, where he is visiting his older brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, 96, who is reportedly seriously ill.

Benedict, who retired from the papacy in February 2013 and is known to have a close relationship with his brother, left his residence at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery Thursday morning.

After being greeted by Pope Francis, he departed at 10 a.m. by plane with his personal secretary, German Archbishop Georg Ganswein, as well as the deputy commander of the Vatican gendarmes, a small group of healthcare workers and one of the consecrated women who works at his household in the Vatican.

According German newspaper Die Tagespost, Ratzinger’s health has recently deteriorated.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, welcomed news of Benedict’s return to his homeland “with joy and respect,” saying he is pleased that “he, who had been a member of our bishops’ conference for a few years, has come home, although the occasion is a sad one.”

Bätzing wished Benedict a good stay in Germany, and “the necessary peace and quiet to take care of his brother privately.”

When Benedict arrived in Regensburg Thursday morning, he was greeted by Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer at the airport.

“The Diocese of Regensburg asks the public to leave this deeply personal encounter the a private setting,” the diocese said in a statement, adding this was the “heartfelt wish of the two elderly brothers.”

The diocese said there will be no photos, public appearances, or any other meetings.

“It may be the last time that the two brothers, Georg and Joseph Ratzinger, see each other in this world,” the statement said, adding that those who wish to express their sympathy “are cordially invited to say a silent prayer for the two brothers.”

Speaking to Vatican News, spokesman Matteo Bruni said Benedict will spend “the time necessary” with his brother. No date has been set for Benedict’s return to the Vatican.

The Ratzinger brothers are known to be close, with Georg visiting the Vatican often even after Benedict’s retirement.

In 2008, when the small Italian town of Castel Gandolfo, which houses the papal summer residence, wished to extend honorary citizenship to Georg Ratzinger, Benedict XVI said that since his birth, his older brother “has been for me not only a companion, but also a reliable guide.”

“He has always represented a point of reference with the clearness and determination of his decisions,” Benedict said.

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