Pope Francis said that his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI was “very sick” and asked for prayers from the faithful so God would comfort him “to death”.
Francis didn’t elaborate on Benedict’s condition, but he did surprise his audience with the appeal.
The Vatican said that the condition of the 95-year old had “worsened due age” in the last hour.
Benedict was the first pope to resign in 600 years, with the former pontiff taking over the title of pope emeritus.
He has lived in the Vatican since then.
Pope Francis stated in his remarks, “I’d love to ask you all for a special prayer in honor of Emeritus Pope Benedict who, in silence is sustaining the Church.”
“I remind him that he’s very sick.
“Let us ask the Lord for comfort and support in this testimony of love towards the church until the end.”
After the service, Pope Francis visited Benedict.
According to a Vatican spokesperson, he is under constant medical care and that his condition is under control.
After dedicating his post-papacy time to prayer and meditation, Benedict has been increasingly frail over the years.
Benedict’s retirement decisions, including his decision not to wear the white cassock of papacy, have been questioned by cardinals as well as canon lawyers.
Benedict refusing to go back to Joseph Ratzinger, his birth name, has also been a point of contention.
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Critics claim that these choices and Benedict’s presence at the Vatican are confusing for Catholics, and threaten unity in the Church.
They say that traditionalists can use Benedict to be a conservative point-of-reference if they are unhappy with Francis’s decisions.
Benedict resigned in 2013 because of his “deteriorating health”.
He wrote in his resignation letter: “After repeatedly examining my conscience before God I have come to the conclusion that my strengths, due a advanced age, are not suited for an adequate exercise of The Petrine ministry.”
Pope Francis asked for prayers for Benedict after he called for an immediate halt to the “senseless” war in Ukraine.
He said that people should not look at the “shallow holiday glitter” but help the homeless, the refugees, and the poor in his 10th Christmas blessing.