Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict talk about their friendship
Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict have expressed appreciation for the friendship that has grown between them on the occasion of the publication of Elio Guerriero's biography of Pope Benedict XVI. Both popes clearly value their friendship for the support and encouragement that it brings to them both.
Pope Benedict XVI on Pope Francis
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his friendship with Pope Francis in a rare interview with his biographer Elio Guerriero, published in La Reppublica (paraphrased by CNA):
"Speaking about Pope Francis, Benedict said that obedience to his successor “was never in discussion,” but that since Francis’ election, a feeling of “deep communion and friendship” has arisen between the two.
“At the moment of his election I experienced, as many, a spontaneous feeling of gratitude toward Providence,” he said, explaining that after having two Pope’s from Central Europe, “the Lord was turning, so to speak, his gaze to the Universal Church and invited us to a more extensive communion, more Catholic.”
Benedict said he was deeply moved by Pope Francis’ “extraordinary human availability to me” from the beginning. He noted how immediately after Francis was elected, the new Pope attempted to call him at his residence in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery. Having failed to reach him, Francis called again right after greeting faithful from the balcony of St. Peter’s, this time succeeding. Pope Francis “spoke to me with great warmth,” Benedict recalled, noting that since that day “he has given me the gift of a wonderfully paternal-fraternal relationship.”
Not only does Francis frequently send “little gifts” and personal letters to Benedict, but he also makes sure to visit his predecessor before embarking on every major trip he takes:
“The human benevolence with which he treats me, is for me a special grace of this last phase of my life for which I can only be grateful. What he says about availability to other men, are not only words. He puts it into practice with me. May the Lord in turn make him feel his benevolence every day. This I ask the Lord for him.”
Pope Francis on Pope Benedict XVI
John L. Allen has provided excerpts from Pope Francis's preface to Elio Guerriero's biography of Pope Benedict XVI:
“His discrete presence and his prayer for the Church are a continual support and comfort for my service. Who better than him can understand the joys, and also the difficulties, of service to the universal Church and the world of today, and be spiritually close to the one called by the Lord to carry that weight? For that reason, his prayer is especially precious, and his friendship especially appreciated."
About there being two popes in the Church
“Since they love each other, it’s a beautiful novelty. In a certain sense it expresses in a particularly clear way the continuity of the Petrine ministry, without interruption, like links in a single chain forged by love. The holy people of God, on the path, have understood this very well. Every time the emeritus pope has appeared in public, at my invitation, and I was able to embrace him in front of everyone, the joy and the applause of those present has been sincere and intense.”
On the continuity between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI
“Everyone in the Church has a great debt of gratitude towards Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI for the depth and balance of his theological thought, always in the service of the Church, up to the highest responsibility; the contribution of his faith and culture to a magisterium capable of meeting the expectations of our time was fundamental. The courage and determination with which he faced difficult situations have shown the way to react with humility and truth, in the spirit of renewal and purification.”
The loving mercy of God is "the most urgent message of a Church reaching out, even to the peripheries, of a world marked by conflicts, injustices and disrespect for the human person. The entire life of thought and works of Joseph Ratzinger has aimed at that end, and in the same direction, with the help of God, I’ll try to continue."
The role of the successor of St Peter has been described as one of the loneliest jobs in the world. The pope alone bears ultimate responsibility before God for the universal Church:
"The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power." (Lumen Gentium, 22).
For any man occupying the throne of St Peter this realisation must at times be a great burden. It is good that Pope Francis has Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI close at hand supporting him in prayer and friendship.