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Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict in historic meeting

By editor - 23 March, 2013

Pope Francis has met with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in the papal summer residence at Castelgandolfo, south of Rome. It was the first time in at least 600 years that a sitting pope has met his predecessor.

Francis was flown to Castel Gandolfo by helicopter for the lunch date, CNN reports.

The hilltop castle overlooking a lake is the summer papal residence and has been home to Benedict since he quit Vatican City on February 28.

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.

The pair shared “a long and cordial call” Tuesday, the Vatican said, when Francis rang Benedict to wish him well on his saint’s day and thank him for his service.

Benedict “has attentively followed the events of recent days,” including Francis’ inauguration mass before crowds of well wishers and dignitaries on that morning, the Vatican said.

Pope Francis has spoken warmly of his predecessor. On the night of his election, addressing the crowd from the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called for prayers for Benedict, while later that evening he exchanged a few words with him by phone.

Two days later, at a meeting with the cardinals, he paid tribute to his predecessor, saying that his faith and teaching had “enriched and invigorated” the Catholic Church.

Last Tuesday, on the day of his inauguration, Pope Francis also rang Benedict again to wish him well on St Joseph’s Day. On Thursday, in an address to the diplomatic corps, Francis spoke of both material and spiritual poverty, pointing out that his “beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI” had called the latter “the tyranny of relativism”.

One of his first acts as Pope was to call Benedict at Castel Gandolfo.

Pope Francis will begin the Church’s most important liturgical season on Sunday with a Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square.

He will then lead six more liturgies during the week, culminating with the Easter Sunday Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing.

Francis, meanwhile, is starting to get to grips with his new role now 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 marginalised,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“With this celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue his custom, which is characterised by its humble context.”

Tom O’ Gorman