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Pope Francis tells Benedict: 'We are brothers'

9:05 PM, Mar 23, 2013   |    comments
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Pope Francis, left, and predecessor Benedict XVI meet Saturday at the helipad of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome. (Photo: L'Osservatore Romano via Getty Images)

The historic meeting between the two popes appears to have been anything but awkward as Pope Francis traveled to Castel Gandolfo on Saturday to lunch with predecessor Benedict XVI.

The two popes embraced on the helipad when Francis' helicopter arrived, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio. The two were dressed in white, with Pope Francis wearing a cape and sash to distinguish himself from Benedict, who wore a simple white cassock.

When the duo went to the chapel, Lombardi said Benedict offered Francis the traditional kneeler used by the pope, but Francis wanted the pair to kneel together on the same pew, saying, "We are brothers."

The private meeting lasted about 45 minutes, said Lombardi, who called it a "moment of profound and elevated communion."

Lombardi told the AP that he understood Benedict repeated his pledge of obedience to Francis on Saturday. Asked how the popes addressed one another, Lombardi demurred, saying he didn't think they addressed one another as "Your Holiness" or "Pope," saying the exchange was too familiar and warm for such titles.

Francis also brought a gift for Benedict, an icon of the Madonna.

Outside the villa, the main piazza of Castel Gandolfo was packed Saturday with well-wishers hoping to catch a glimpse of history: two popes breaking bread together and presumably discussing the future of the Catholic Church. They chanted "Francesco! Francesco!"

Francis and the emeritus pope - the retired Benedict's new title - have spoken by phone several times since Francis' election. Saturday's meeting marked the first time a reigning pope and retired pope have gathered, the Vatican said in a news release.

The Vatican has attempted to downplay the meeting: It didn't provide live coverage of the event and only provided a few photos of the meeting. Pope Francis was scheduled to return to the Vatican later Saturday afternoon.

Benedict has been living in Castel Gandolfo since his Feb. 28 resignation -the first time a pope has stepped down in 600 years. The villa there has hosted popes since the 17th century.

Benedict's resignation has raised the question of how the Catholic Church will deal with the novel situation of having one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side, each of them called "pope," each of them wearing papal white and even sharing the same aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

After a few months in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict will return to the Vatican to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens, just a short walk from St. Peter's Basilica and the shrine devoted to the Madonna where Francis went to pray on one of his first walks as pope.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Katharine Lackey, USA TODAY

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