When Pope Benedict resigned last year on Feb. 11, Catholics were unsure what the future would hold for the unprecedented retiree. One year later the former pontiff, who vowed to live “hidden from the world,” is continuing to serve the Church behind the scenes though a quiet life of prayer and by demonstrating allegiance to his successor.
“I think it’s exactly how he said it would be,” said David Uebbing, chancellor for the Denver Archdiocese. “People were skeptical: thinking it would be too problematic to have two popes at the Vatican; that Benedict would exercise undue influence on Pope Francis, but that’s just not his style at all.
“He hasn’t interfered with Pope Francis’ job,” he continued. “But he’s there to offer advice and he calls Pope Francis all the time.”
The 86-year-old former pontiff, the first to retire in 600 years, is living out his retirement in a restored monastery, Mater Ecclesiae, former home to the cloistered nuns of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, just west of St. Peter’s Basilica. Uebbing, who was living in Rome when the pontiff resigned, serving as editor of the Rome bureau of Catholic News Agency, visited Mater Ecclesiae while it was being renovated after the sisters moved out in late 2012.
“It’s a simple building; really serene and quiet,” he said of the 4,300-square-foot L-shaped structure that sits at the highest point of Vatican City and contains a chapel, choir room, small library, terrace and visiting room. “He can go on walks; it’s nice and secluded, and there are a number of gardens and fountains throughout that he could walk through.”
From this peaceful setting, Pope Emeritus Benedict spends his days praying, studying, reading, handling correspondence, listening to music and accepting visitors. On one occasion during the last year, he met with a group of seminarians studying in Rome to talk with them about the priesthood and theology.
“He’s doing things like that ‘in the background’” Uebbing said. “He’s giving what he can even though his energy is flagging and he’s got the typical health issues an 86-year-old would have.”
Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who continues to serves as Benedict XVI’s personal secretary and resides with him at the monastery, while serving as prefect of the pontifical household for Pope Francis, recently talked about the former pontiff’s retirement and health.
“(Pope Benedict) is well but certainly he is a person who carries the weight of his years,” Archbishop Ganswein said in an interview with Reuters. “So, he is a man who is physically old but his spirit is very vivacious and very clear.”
The two spend time together daily.
“We take walks praying the rosary,” he said. “He often plays the piano.”
The archbishop joins the retired pope for lunch in the afternoon, as well as for dinner and to watch the evening news.
“Pope Benedict is at peace with himself,” he said. “And I think he is even at peace with the Lord.”
One day following the selection of Pope Francis last March 13, Uebbing was near a guard station in the courtyard near Casa Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives, when a delivery of flowers arrived for Benedict XVI.
“It was just a great reminder that people still cared about Pope Benedict,” he said. “He still had people coming to visit him, people who still love him.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI | A typical day for this retiree
Mass, then breviary
Prayer, study, correspondence and guests
Lunch at 1:30 p.m.
Correspondence and listening to music until 4 p.m.
Recite rosary while walking in garden
Dinner at 7:30 p.m.
Watch evening news at 8.p.m.