The Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s health has deteriorated in recent hours due to old age, and that physicians are continually monitoring his status. Pope Francis asked to the faithful to pray for his “very ill” predecessor “till the end.”
Matteo Bruni, a spokesperson for the Vatican, stated that Francis visited the frail, 95-year-old Benedict in the monastery on Vatican property where he has resided since his retirement in February 2013.
“Regarding the health status of the emeritus pope, for whom Pope Francis asked for prayers at the conclusion of his general audience this morning, I can certify that a deterioration owing to old age has occurred in the last few hours,” Bruni said in a written statement.
“The problem is currently under control, and doctors are continually monitoring it,” stated the statement.
Francis deviated from his scheduled statements at the conclusion of his routine Wednesday encounter with the public in a Vatican auditorium to announce that Benedict is “extremely unwell” and request prayers for the retiring pontiff.
Francis did not elaborate on the situation of Benedict.
“I would like to request a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who is quietly supporting the church,” Francis stated. “Remember him – he is gravely ill — and beg the Lord to console him and sustain him till the end in this demonstration of love for the church.”
After the hour-long audience, Pope Francis visited Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae convent. Bruni stated, “Let us all join him in prayer for the retired pope.”
Benedict, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, has become increasingly feeble in recent years due to his devotion to prayer and meditation in his post-papal existence.
In April, when Benedict turned 95, his lifelong secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, reported that the retiring pontiff was in excellent spirits and “naturally feeble and delicate, but rather clear.”
Four months ago, Francis also visited Benedict at the monastery. The occasion was Francis’ most recent ceremony promoting churchmen to cardinal status, and the newly elevated “princes of the church” accompanied him to the abbey for a brief greeting.
At the moment, the Vatican released a photograph depicting a very thin-looking Benedict clasping Francis’ hand while the two pontiffs smiled.
In his early years of retirement, Benedict attended a few cardinal-raising ceremonies at St. Peter’s Basilica. In recent years, though, he was too weak to attend the lengthy service.
In 1977, he was raised to the rank of cardinal by then-pope Paul VI. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German prelate and theologian supervised doctrinal orthodoxy at the Vatican for decades. In 2005, he was elected pontiff.
In February 2013, Benedict shocked a meeting full of Vatican clergy by declaring in Latin that he would resign as pope in two weeks. His decision dismayed a number of church traditionalists.
Francis welcomed Benedict’s decision as a courageous admission that his physical infirmity prevented him from serving the world’s 1,3 billion Catholics to the fullest extent.
Francis has stated that he would consider retirement if the circumstances warranted it, citing his own health history, which includes a knee ligament condition that has caused him to use a wheelchair or a cane.
Francis stated in an interview with the Spanish daily ABC earlier this month that he drafted a resignation letter quickly after fellow cardinals elected him to succeed Benedict as pope in case medical issues prevented him from performing his duties.
In the same interview, though, Francis minimised his mobility issue, stating that one controls with the head, not the knee.
In Benedict’s home country of Germany, the president of that country’s bishops’ conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, joined Francis’ call for prayer.
Baetzing told German news agency dpa, “My thoughts are with the Pope Emeritus.” I request that the faithful in Germany pray for Benedict XVI.
During a routine government press conference, government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann stated that in Berlin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz “wishes the German pope a speedy recovery and his thoughts are with him.”