VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday said his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is “very sick,” and he asked the faithful to pray for the retired pontiff so God will comfort him “to the very end.” Francis didn’t elaborate on the condition of Benedict, who resigned as pontiff in February 2013, the first pope to retire in 600 years.
Benedict, 95, lives in a monastery on Vatican grounds. He has become increasingly frail in recent years as he dedicates his post-papacy life to prayer and meditation. “I’d like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Emeritus Pope Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Francis said in remarks near the end of an hour-long audience. ”I remind you that he is very sick,” Francis said. “Let’s ask the Lord to comfort him and sustain him in this testimony of love to the church to the very end,” Francis said.
It wasn’t clear if Francis was speaking about Benedict’s health in general or if his predecessor had some illness. A Vatican spokesperson, queried about Benedict’s condition, said the press office was seeking details. When Benedict turned 95 in April, his longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said the retired pontiff was in good spirits, adding that “naturally he is physically relatively weak and fragile, but rather lucid.”
Pope Francis called on Benedict at the monastery four months ago. The occasion was Francis’ latest ceremony elevating churchmen to cardinal rank, and the new “princes of the church” accompanied him for the brief greeting. The Vatican released a photo at the time that showed a very thin-looking Benedict clasping a hand of Francis as they current and past pontiff smiled at each other. In his first years of retirement, Benedict attended a couple of cardinal-elevating ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica. But in recent years, he wasn’t strong enough to attend the long service.