ROME – Sunday morning Pope Francis left the Vatican to take a brief crosstown trip to Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, where he visited the church of Santi Quaranta Martiri e San Pasquale Baylon in order to pay his respects to a Franciscan priest who died Thursday night and who had been the pontiff’s confessor.

Father Manuel Blanco Rodríguez, who had lived in the Roman church for 44 years, was 85. His funeral will take place this morning Rome time.

In his traditional noontime Angelus address Sunday, Francis paid tribute to Blanco.

“He was a superior, a confessor, a man of counsel,” Francis said. “Remembering him, I’d like to recall so many Franciscan brothers, confessors and preachers, who have honored and continue to honor the Church of Rome. Thank you to all of them!”

According to Father Josè Manuel Sanchis Cantó, who teaches at the Franciscan-run Pontifical University Antonianum and who lives at the church of Santi Quaranta Martiri e San Pasquale Baylon, the pontiff’s visit was a surprise.

“This morning before 7:00 a.m., the doorbell rang and the father superior told us someone had arrived from the papal household, but we didn’t think it was the pope,” Sanchis Cantó said.

“When I opened the door, a Vatican gendarme told us the pope would arrive soon,” he said. “All the brothers came down to the sacristy where Father Manuel’s casket is located, and then the pope arrived and greeted us.”

Sanchis Cantó said Francis inquired where the Franciscans were from, and made some brief impromptu remarks.

“He gave us some advice, and spoke about Father Blanco as a good person, merciful and mild, all in a climate of serenity and closeness,” he said.

Afterwards, he said, the group said morning prayers and then Francis spent several moments in quite reverence before the coffin.

According to a note from the Franciscans, Blanco held various roles within the order over the years, including General Definitor, Provinical Minister, a visitor in various entities of the order, Vice-Rector, Dean and Professor of Philosophy at the Antonianum, all in addition to serving as the pope’s confessor.

Father Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General of the Franciscan order, also paid tribute to Blanco.

“I was able to know him personally over the years and thus appreciate his human, spiritual and intellectual qualities,” Fusarelli wrote. “I also always found in him a good, fraternal, strong and faithful presence in his way of life.”

“We thank the Giver of all good for everything he has given us during the life of Brother Manuel, including the inevitable weaknesses that remain entrusted to the inexhaustible mercy of God,” he wrote.

Blanco was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 after theological studies in Rome. He taught at the San Ildefonso Theological Institute in Toledo, Spain, for a decade before arriving in Rome for the first time in 1985. He was also the superior of a Franciscan community in Toledo, where he became a close friend of the late Cardinal Marcelo González Martín.

In a September 2015 interview with Portuguese Catholic journalist Aura Miguel, Francis revealed that he went to confession with Blanco every fifteen to twenty days.

“I confess to a Franciscan Father, Father Blanco, who is kind enough to come here to confess to me,” the pope said. “And yes, I never had to call an ambulance to take him back, scared of my sins!”