Pope Francis meets his predecessor

Updated: Saturday, 23 Mar 2013 22:10

A reigning pope and a former pope faced each other for the first time in at least 600 years today when Pope Francis travelled south of Rome for lunch with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis, who was elected on 13 March, flew by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict has been living since he retired on 28 February.

Footage released by the Vatican showed the two men, both dressed in nearly identical white clerical garb, including white skull caps, embracing shortly after the helicopter landed at the large estate.

The men travelled in the same car to the residence where they prayed together, spoke alone for about 45 minutes and then had lunch accompanied by their two secretaries.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the atmosphere for the entire visit, which lasted just under three hours, was "family-like".

When they went to pray in the chapel, Benedict offered the place of honour, a kneeler before the altar, to Francis, who declined, saying, "We are brothers, we pray together," Fr Lombardi said.

Footage showed the two men praying at the same pew.

Asked about the health of Benedict, who became the first pope in 600 years to resign instead of ruling for life, citing diminishing strength, Fr Lombardi said: "It is normal, he is an old man."

Benedict has been living temporarily in the summer residence in the Alban Hills and will move back to the Vatican after the restoration of a convent where he is expected to live for the rest of his life.