ROME -- The Vatican became the home of two living popes Thursday when former pontiff Benedict XVI took up residence in a house in the city-state’s garden.
The unprecedented cohabitation with his successor, Pope Francis, began when Benedict arrived by helicopter about 4:45 p.m. from Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence where he had stayed since retiring Feb. 28.
After becoming the first pope in six centuries to step down, Benedict left the Vatican that day by helicopter to avoid intruding on the election of his successor and to give time for his new house to be renovated. On Thursday, Pope Francis was waiting to greet Benedict at the newly decorated home, a former monastery that the former pope will occupy along with four lay nuns who will cook and clean for him and his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
Francis and Benedict briefly prayed together in the house’s private chapel, the Vatican said in a statement.
Concerns have been raised that Francis’ authority might be undermined by the presence at the Vatican of his 86-year-old predecessor. Benedict has chosen to continue to dress in a white cassock and surprised many by opting to call himself “pope emeritus.”
But when he stepped down, he insisted he would remain “hidden from the world” in retirement. He appeared extremely frail when Francis visited him at Castel Gandolfo in March, although the Vatican has said he is not suffering from any illnesses -- just slowing down with old age.
Francis’ decision to personally welcome Benedict home after a 15-minute flight gave the impression of a host welcoming a guest.
Workers have readied a study and library for Benedict at his new digs, which were formerly occupied by cloistered nuns as well as by the Vatican’s head gardener. A guest room is available for Benedict’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, who lives in Germany.
Sitting on a rise in the Vatican’s large garden, the house is close to a wooded area, commands views over Rome and is less than half a mile from Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where Francis has chosen to live since his election March 13.
Francis has eschewed the large papal apartment usually occupied by popes in favor of the bustle and constant company at Casa Santa Marta, which sits next to the Vatican’s gas station and is a short walk from the Holy See’s on-site department store.
The 76-year-old Argentine has shown a dislike for the regal trappings of the papacy. He takes meals alongside other visitors to the residence and gives Mass every morning in the residence’s chapel to Vatican employees.
Francis has already gained popularity with his informal style and appointed a commission of cardinals to study and probably overhaul the Vatican administration, which critics say has become dysfunctional and corrupt.