Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he 'feels protected' by Pope Francis

IMAGE: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his first public address in almost
a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope
Francis, saying that his goodness “from the first moment of your election,
in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply.”

“More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your
goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected,” Pope Benedict said June

Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would
continue to “lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path
of Jesus, to Jesus and to God.”

Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th
anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination. The two were joined by the
heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a
delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made
his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope’s

A few minutes later, Pope Francis entered the hall and made
a beeline for his predecessor, who respectfully removed his zucchetto before
greeting him. Pope Francis has made no secret of his admiration for the retired
pontiff, often comparing him to a “wise grandfather at home.”

During his return
flight to Rome from Armenia June 26, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict for
“protecting me and having my back with his

Recalling Pope Benedict’s promise of obedience to his
successor in the days leading up to the conclave, Pope Francis said he had heard
that some people have been “sent away” by the retired pontiff after
complaining “about this new pope.”

“If (the report) isn’t true, it is well-founded,
because this man is like that: a man of his word, a righteous man!” Pope
Francis exclaimed.

Speaking at the anniversary celebration, Pope Francis
praised Pope Benedict’s life of priestly service to the church and recalled his
writings on Simon Peter’s response to “Jesus’ definitive call: ‘Do you
love me?'”

“This is the hallmark dominating an entire life spent
in priestly service and of the true theology that you have defined — not by
chance — as ‘the search for the beloved.’ It is this that you have always
given witness to and continue to give witness to today,” he said.

Even in retirement, he said, Pope Benedict continues to
serve the church and “truly contributes with vigor and wisdom to its
growth” from the “little ‘Mater Ecclesiae’ monastery in the

The monastery, Pope Francis continued, is the complete
opposite of those “forgotten corners” society often assigns to those
who have reached old age.

Instead, like the Porziuncola where St. Francis spent his final days in prayer, the Mater
Ecclesiae monastery “has become a ‘Franciscan’ place that emanates tranquility,
peace, strength, faithfulness, maturity, faith, dedication and loyalty which
does so much good for me and gives strength to me and to the whole
church,” Pope Francis said.

Congratulating his predecessor, Pope Francis expressed his
hope that Pope Benedict “would continue to feel the hand of the merciful
God that sustains him” and that he may “experience and give witness
to God’s love.”

When Pope Francis finished speaking, Pope Benedict
clasped his hands together and signaled his thanks to the pope. With a bit of
effort, he rose to his feet and stretched out his arms to embrace Pope Francis.

After short speeches
by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano,
dean of the College of Cardinals, the retired pontiff slowly stood up once
again to express his gratitude.

Despite his frailty, Pope Benedict vividly recalled his
ordination 65 years ago, remembering a Greek word a priest ordained with him
wrote on the remembrance card of his first Mass: “Eucharistomen” (“We give you

“I am convinced that this word, in its many dimensions, has
already said everything that can be said in this moment,” the retired pope

The word “eucharistomen,” he added, can bring everyone
closer toward that “new dimension” of thanksgiving given by Christ,
who transformed the cross, sufferings and the evils of the world “into
grace and blessing.”

“We want to insert ourselves in this grace of the Lord
and thus truly receive the newness of life and help in the transubstantiation
of the world. May it be a world not of death but of life, a world in which love
has overcome death,” he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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