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'We're brothers': Pope meets ex-pope for historic lunch

AP

Pope Francis, left, and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI pray together in Castel Gandolfo Saturday, in this photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict prayed together before having lunch in a historic meeting Saturday.

The new pontiff flew to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills outside of Rome by helicopter Saturday. Pope Benedict XVI has been living there since he resigned Feb. 28, becoming the first pope to step down in 600 years.

Both men wore white papal outfits.

Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said that Benedict and Francis had embraced at the helipad, then went to a private chapel to pray.

Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict prayed together before having lunch in a historic meeting Saturday. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

Benedict, who looked frail and walked with a cane, told Francis to kneel in front of the altar, but Francis said, "let's kneel together" and they did so, Lombardi said.

"We're brothers," Francis reportedly told the former pope as the two prayed together on the same prie dieu.

They then had a private conversation for about 40 minutes in the library, before going to lunch.

Francis presented Benedict with a gift of an icon of the Virgin Mary.

“When I saw this picture of the Madonna of Humility, my thoughts turned immediately to you,” Francis told his predecessor, according to Eurovision News.


The Associated Press reported that crowds gathered near then villa in the hope of catching a glimpse of history.

The news agency speculated about what the two men would discuss:

The two popes might discuss the big issues facing the church: The rise of secularism in the world, the drop in priestly vocations in Europe, the competition that the Catholic Church faces in Latin America and Africa from evangelical Pentecostal movements.

They might also discuss pressing issues concerning Francis' new job: Benedict left a host of unfinished business on Francis' plate, including the outcome of a top-secret investigation into the leaks of papal documents last year.

Francis might want to sound Benedict out on his ideas for management changes in the Holy See administration, a priority given the complete dysfunctional government he has inherited.

They might also discuss the future of Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, Benedict's trusted aide who has had the difficult task of escorting his old pope into retirement and then returning to the Vatican to serve his successor.

Gaenswein has appeared visibly upset and withdrawn at times as he has been by Francis' side. The Vatican has said Francis' primary secretary will be Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, who had been the No. 2 secretary under Benedict.

NBC News' Ian Johnston and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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