Pope Francis welcomed his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI back to the Vatican on Thursday afternoon.
The now retired Pope Benedict had been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo since he formally stepped down as head of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world and left Vatican City on February 28.
Benedict was the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.
Benedict traveled back to the Vatican on Thursday by helicopter. He will live on the Vatican grounds at a newly renovated convent called Mater Ecclesiae. He was driven from the Vatican heliport to his new residence where he was greeted by his successor. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters that Francis greeted Benedict, “with great fraternal cordiality. Together they went to the monastery chapel for a brief moment of prayer.”
Lombardi said the pope emeritus was happy to be back at the Vatican, “where he intends to dedicate himself to the service of the church specially through prayer, as he himself announced it on February 11.”
The Vatican said Benedict was joined in his return by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, and the four women of the Memores Domini, a lay association that has been part of the papal household for years, cleaning and cooking. They will live with him at the small monastery.
Francis and Benedict have spoken by phone at least twice, the Vatican said, and the two shared lunch on March 23. Francis traveled to Castel Gandolfo to meet and pray with Benedict just days after his election. The Vatican said it was the first time two living popes met together.
Benedict’s new home is a far cry from the palatial papal apartment at the Vatican and the retreat at Castel Gandolfo. “It used to be the gardener’s house,” Sister Ancilla Armijo told CNN in February just after Benedict announced his retirement plans.”It’s just a small house. What they added was just a library for the sisters and a new chapel.”
Armijo, a Benedictine nun, lived in the convent from 2004-2009 where their mission was praying for the pope – first for an ailing Pope John Paul II and then all the way through to the election and papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
Upon arrival at the monastery Benedict called it “a welcoming house,” the Vatican said. “Here one can work well.”