VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The day after Pope Francis told people retired Pope Benedict was “very sick” and in need of prayers, the Vatican said he had had a restful night and described him as being in serious, but stable condition.
“I would like to ask all of you for a special prayer for emeritus Pope Benedict,” Pope Francis had said at the end of his weekly general audience Dec. 28.
The 95-year-old retired pope “is sustaining the church in silence,” Pope Francis said. “Remember him. He is very sick.”
“Ask the Lord to console him and sustain him in his witness of love for the church until the very end,” Pope Francis said.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that Pope Francis went to Pope Benedict’s residence after the audience to visit him.
“I can confirm that in the last few hours there has been a worsening (of Pope Benedict’s health) due to advancing age,” Bruni said. “The situation at the moment remains under control, constantly followed by doctors.”
In a statement to reporters the next day, Bruni said the retired pope had rested well overnight and “is absolutely lucid and alert.”
“Although his condition remains serious,” Bruni said, as of midday Dec. 29 he was stable.
“Pope Francis renews his invitation to pray for him and accompany him in these difficult hours,” Bruni added.
Cardinals, bishops, bishops’ conferences and faithful around the world offered prayers for the ailing former pope and the Diocese of Rome announced that an evening Mass would be offered Dec. 30 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran “for our beloved Benedict XVI.”
In the 24 hours after Pope Francis asked for prayers for his predecessor, news crews started heading to St. Peter’s Square to give updates, although there was not much new to report. The square was filled with pilgrims, tourists and families taking advantage of the holidays to see the Nativity scene and visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
On Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict announced that he would retire effective Feb. 28 that year. He spent the first several months of his retirement at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo before moving into the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens where he has lived since.
The retired pope has looked increasingly frail, but as recently as Dec. 1 the foundation that promotes his theological work released photos of him meeting with the two winners of the Ratzinger Prize. He also met in August at the monastery with Pope Francis and the new cardinals the pope had just created.