Pope Francis this week asked for prayers for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“I would like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Pope Francis said. “Let us remember him. He is very sick, asking the Lord to console and sustain him in this witness of love for the Church, until the end.”
The Holy See Press Office later confirmed the pontiff’s announcement and said Benedict has taken a turn for the worse medically, according to a report in Catholic News Agency.
“I can confirm that in the last few hours there has been a worsening due to advancing age,” said Matt Bruni of the Holy See Press Office. “The situation at the moment remains under control, constantly followed by doctors.”
Sources say he is on hospice care and is currently in stable condition.
Benedict was elected to the papacy in 2005. He later claimed that he prayed he would not be chosen but was forced to accept because he believed God was calling him to service. In February 2013, at 85 years old, Benedict became the first pope in centuries to resign from his post.
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise,” he said at that time. Despite his optimism, the pope emeritus has expressed exhaustion at the longevity of his own life post-papacy.
Last year, Prefect of the Papal Household Archbishop Georg Gänswein recounted conversations he has had with the aging former pontiff, noting that no other pope has lived to 94 years of age.
“He tells me, ‘I’m nearly 94 years old, what do you want from me?’ He didn’t expect to live to this age,” Gänswein said. “He’s even told me he didn’t imagine it would take so long to travel the distance from the end of his pontificate to meet Saint Peter at the Gate.”
Francis and Benedict have remained close since the changing of the pontificate. The two often dine together and celebrate events such as birthdays in the Papal Apartments.
Reflecting on his own advanced age, Pope Francis previously has warned that the modern world has begun to forget the importance of the elderly and that society is not sure how to handle citizens’ longer lives and advanced ages
“We cannot speak about family without talking about the importance of the elderly among us,” Francis said. “We don’t quite know how to live this new stage of life — there are many plans for assistance for the old age but few projects for existence.”
Both popes have been staunch defenders of life in opposing abortion and the death penalty. They have also both stood firm that marriage is for people of the opposite sex.
–Dwight Widaman | MV