CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy —
Clearly aware of that potential, Benedict in his very last meeting with his cardinals on Feb. 28 pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the then-unknown future pope, who was nevertheless in the room.
Lombardi said he understood Benedict repeated that pledge of obedience to Francis on Saturday. Asked how the popes addressed one another, Lombardi demurred, saying he didn't think they addressed one another as "Your Holiness" or "Pope," saying the exchange was too familiar and warm for such titles.
After a few months in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict is to return to the Vatican to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens, just a short walk from St. Peter's Basilica and the shrine devoted to the Madonna where Francis went to pray on one of his first walks as pope.
Despite Benedict's expressed intent to fade away, Francis on virtually every occasion afforded him has made clear he has no intention of letting his "venerable predecessor" disappear from memory: Francis called Benedict right after his election, urged prayers for him in his first papal Masses, and called the former Joseph Ratzinger to congratulate him on the feast of St. Joseph on March 19.
The Vatican has similarly made clear that the ex-pope hasn't completely lost interest in the matters of the church, following on television Francis's inaugural appearance on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after his election, when he charmed the crowd with a simple "Brothers and sisters, good evening."
The two men couldn't be more different in style and background: The Argentine-born Francis has made headlines with his simple gestures — no papal regalia, simple black shoes, paying his own hotel bill — and basic message that a pope's job is to protect the poor.