April 25, 2013, Thursday — Benedict to Return to Vatican City

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI is expected to return from Castel Gandolfo to Vatican City in the next few days.

The Emeritus Pope — creating a situation unique in the history of the Church where a former Pope and a reigning Bishop of Rome will be both living inside the Vatican at the same time — will return to the Vatican “between the end of April and the first days of May, as planned,” Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Vatican Press Office, said yesterday at the offices of the Foreign Press Club in Rome, as reported by Isabella Piro of Vatican Radio.

Some had speculated in recent days that Benedict might change his mind and not come back to the Vatican for many months, or perhaps even not at all, remaining instead at Castel Gandolfo. This news ends that speculation.

Father Lombardi also told the journalists that the only foreign trip Pope Francis will make this year will be to Brazil from July 23 to 28 for World Youth Day. It had been rumored that Francis might travel to Argentina in December in connection with his December 17 birthday. “I invite you not to expect other foreign trips during this year,” Father Lombardi said. (“Vi invito a non aspettarvi altri viaggi all’estero per quest’anno.”)

So Pope Francis will be traveling abroad only once during his first year as Pope. This seems to emphasize that his focus is on Rome and on the Vatican. He is acting and functioning less as a “supreme pontiff” of the global Church and more as the bishop of his diocese, Rome, and, in a sense, as seen in his daily homilies in the chapel of the Domus Santa Marta, as the parish priest of Vatican City.

But, Vatican Radio said, the Pope may very well make a trip later this year inside of Italy, to Assisi, perhaps on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi — the saint whose name this Pope chose as his own.

Also, it is “not to be excluded,” Father Lombardi said, that Pope Francis will publish his first encyclical before the end of the year. Lombardi noted that Emeritus Pope Benedict had prepared a portion of the text for an encyclical on faith, for this “Year of Faith,” so that will likely be the theme of Francis’s first encyclical.

Scholars will have to parse out, some day, perhaps, the way Pope Francis uses the material already prepared by Benedict: how much Francis keeps, how much he changes, how much he sets aside.

A Place that Feels Like “Home”

The new Pope, Francis, 76, is still living in the Vatican’s only “guest house,” called the Domus Santa Marta (“House of St. Martha”), which is just at the bottom of the Vatican gardens, about a 12- or 15-minute walk away from where Benedict will come to live.

Francis seems very happy in the Domus.

“He likes it very much,” Father Lombardi said. (“Si trova molto bene”). “At the moment, he does not seem to want to change his residence, although this is not yet a definitive decision.” (“Al momento, non sembra voler cambiare alloggio, anche se non si tratta di una decisione definitiva.”)

So it seems that that Pope Francis, against all expectations, will remain for many more weeks — and perhaps permanently — in the Domus Santa Marta.

Some in Rome and Italy have written veiled criticisms of this decision. They have said it is “unbecoming” of the Pope to remain in a guest house and not to occupy his rooms in the Apostolic Palace.

One author even wrote that the people of Rome feel a bit “abandoned” since thay are not able to look up in the evening and to see the Pope’s light on in the papal palace above St. Peter’s Square. It remains dark. (See photo below for the Apostolic Palace with the Pope’s windows lit.)

In recent weeks, the link between Benedict and Francis has been Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the personal secretary of Emeritus Pope Benedict and the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, who has been living at Castel Gandolfo and traveling daily into Rome and back. Over time, this “commute” has become quite taxing on the archbishop, as the Roman traffic into the city in the morning can make what would be a 25-minute drive with no traffic into a journey of more than an hour of stop-and-go driving.

So this decision of Emeritus Pope Benedict to return to the Vatican gardens will also bring Archbishop Gaenswein back to the Vatican, and relieve him of that onerous commute.

The “two Popes” — one emeritus, one newly elected — have only met on one occasion, on March 23, just 10 days after the election of Pope Francis.

They met at Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles outside of Rome. (The photo below shows the moment of their first meeting.)

However, it has been announced that the two have spoken on more than one occasion over the telephone, and a source has advised that one such call went on for about two hours.

A Book on the New Pope

I would like readers of this newsletter to consider purchasing a copy of my new book about Pope Francis.

Entitled Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas, the book narrates the events of Francis’s tumultuous first days.

This is followed by a brief biography providing a context for understanding this man, and then a look at the spiritual influences that shaped him.

My main goal was to offer readers a tool that can be used in many ways as a type of devotional.

Pray for Me is geared toward those who would like to accompany Pope Francis on his journey of faith in the months and years ahead.

Here are links where you can preorder the book:

1. Amazon

2. Barnes and Noble

If you would like a signed copy of the book, please call our toll-free number at 1-800-789-9494 in the US. Signed copies will be $30 (all shipping and handling included).

I would appreciate it if readers would support this book.

(Photo of Pope Francis, copyright Jerry Downs, for Inside the Vatican)

“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross

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