New pope, old pope meet for lunch
CASTEL GANDOLFO (CNN) — Pope Francis is having lunch Saturday with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in what the Vatican said was the first such encounter in the history of the Catholic Church.
Francis, who was inaugurated as the new head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Tuesday, has made some changes since taking the helm — most notably by adopting a simpler, personal style and calling for the Church to focus on serving the poor and needy.
The new pontiff was flown to Castel Gandolfo by helicopter for the lunch date.
He was greeted at the helipad by Benedict XVI, and the pair exchanged an embrace, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. They rode in a car together to the Castel Gandolfo residence, the Vatican said.
Both men wore simple white cassocks but only Francis wore the white papal mantle and sash over his robe.
The two then prayed together, side-by-side, in a chapel before meeting in a library at the residence for 45 minutes of talks ahead of lunch.
Relations between Francis and his predecessor were warm and cordial, Lombardi said. Francis presented the latter with the gift of a painting he said reminded him of Benedict’s gifts to the Church.
Seen, but not heard
Lombardi declined to tell reporters what the pair discussed, saying only that they were private talks.
Vatican observers believe that one item on the agenda will have been the contents of a 300-page dossier presented by three cardinals to Benedict in the wake of the so-called Vatileaks scandal.
Benedict passed on the report — ordered after leaks last year revealed claims of corruption within the Vatican hierarchy — to his successor.
Italian media reports suggested the cardinals had uncovered a series of scandals involving sex, money and power, but the Vatican press office sought to tamp down what it called a rash of “often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories.”
The pair may also talk about possible appointments by Francis. The people he chooses to hold key roles may give an indication of his priorities for the Church at a time when some are calling for reform and modernization of its hierarchy.
They have spoken several times by telephone since Francis was elected 10 days ago but this is their first face-to-face meeting, the Vatican said.
Crowds who had gathered in the small town’s central square waved and clapped as the white papal helicopter twice passed overhead before landing. Some chanted “Francesco, Francesco” — the pope’s name in Italian.
According to police at Castel Gandolfo, the crowds numbered between 1,500 and 2,000.
Many had gathered in the hope of seeing Francis appear at a balcony to wave but Lombardi said this was not scheduled to happen.
Francis was elected on March 13 after Benedict became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, citing age and frailty. A new pope usually takes the reins only following the death of his predecessor.
The hilltop castle overlooking a lake is the summer papal residence and has been home to Benedict since he left Vatican City on February 28.
Benedict’s last public appearance was at a window of the castle, when he blessed the crowds below before retiring into seclusion.
The pope emeritus is expected to move back to Vatican City at the end of April, once restoration work on a small monastery within its grounds is complete. There, he will devote himself to prayer and study.
Before resigning, he pledged his obedience to the new pope.
Benedict “has attentively followed the events of recent days,” including Francis’ inauguration Mass before crowds of well wishers and dignitaries, the Vatican said.
When the last pope to resign, Gregory XII, stepped down in 1415 it was to help resolve the worst institutional crisis in the Church’s history — a schism that had led to three rival claimants to the papacy.
And when former hermit Pope Celestine V resigned in 1294 after less than six months in office, he was imprisoned soon afterward by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII.
Busy week ahead
Pope Francis, meanwhile, is starting to get to grips with his new role now that the pomp and ceremony of his inauguration is out of the way.
On Friday, he met with the Vatican diplomatic corps and thanked them for the work they do to “build peace and construct bridges of friendship and fraternity” with some 180 states around the world.
“Through you I encounter your peoples, and thus in a sense I can reach out to every one of your fellow citizens, with their joys, their troubles, their expectations, their desires,” he said.
The coming week, which leads up to Easter Sunday, will be a busy one for the new pontiff, starting with Palm Sunday Mass.
On Thursday, Francis will break with tradition by celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper — which is centered on the gesture of the washing of feet — at the Casal del Marmo youth detention center, the Vatican said.
The service has in past years been held at the grand Basilica of St. John Lateran, the official seat of the bishop of Rome.
“In his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio used to celebrate the Mass in a prison or hospital or hospice for the poor and marginalized,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“With this celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue his custom, which is characterized by its humble context.”
It will not be the first time Francis visits the prison. He was there in March 2007 to celebrate Mass.