Pope Francis said Wednesday Benedict XVI, who became the first pope to step down in six centuries, was “very ill” and urged people to pray for him.
Later, the head of the worldwide Catholic Church visited his 95-year-old predecessor at his home in a former convent in the Vatican.
“Remember him because he is very ill and ask the Lord to comfort and sustain him,” Francis said.
A Vatican source told AFP that Benedict’s health started deteriorating “about three days ago”.
“It’s his vital functions that are failing, including his heart,” the source said, adding that no hospitalization is planned as he has the “necessary medical equipment” at home.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that Benedict’s health had deteriorated “in the last few hours” and said Francis visited him after his audience.
“There has been an age-related deterioration in the last few hours. The situation remains under control at the moment and is being continuously monitored by doctors,” Bruni said at 10:30 GMT.
Benedict had already cited his deteriorating physical and mental health in his 2013 decision to become the first pope since 1415 to step down as head of the worldwide Catholic Church.
The pope emeritus, whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger, has since lived a quiet life and rarely appears in public.
He was the first German Pope in 1000 years.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz “wants the retired Pope a speedy recovery and sends him his thoughts,” said government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann.
Georg Baetzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said his thoughts were with Benedict, while his Italian counterpart Matteo Zuppi called for prayer for the ex-Pope in Italy’s churches.
“Weak and Fragile”
The ANSA news agency reported that Benedikt had complained of “breathing problems” before Christmas, but had long since suffered from health problems.
In 2018, in a letter sent daily to Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Benedict described “the slow withering of my physical strength” and said he was “on an inner pilgrimage home.”
Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech said in 2020 that Benedict had “difficulty expressing himself”.
The ex-Pope, who uses a wheelchair, said: “The Lord took my speech away so I can appreciate the silence,” Grech told Vatican News.
In April, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told Vatican News the ex-Pope was “physically relatively weak and fragile” but “in good spirits”.
Benedict was 78 years old when, in April 2005, he succeeded the long-serving and popular Pope John Paul II.
His resignation has created an unprecedented situation in which two “men in white” – Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis – have co-existed within the walls of the tiny city-state.
Benedict’s papacy has been plagued by church power struggles and outcry over pedophilia.
He was the first pope to apologize for clerical child sexual abuse scandals that were emerging around the world, expressing “deep remorse” and meeting personally with the victims.
But while he took important steps to address the issue, Benedict was criticized for not ending the church’s cover-ups.
The pedophilia scandal has returned to haunt his retirement.
A scathing report for the German Church in January 2022 accused him of personally failing to stop four predatory priests as Archbishop of Munich in the 1980s.
Benedict has denied wrongdoing and the Vatican has vigorously defended its record.
Unlike his successor Pope Francis, a Jesuit who likes to be among his flock, Benedict is considered a conservative intellectual.
He was referred to as “God’s Rottweiler” in a previous post as chief executor of doctrine.
But as pope, he seemed overwhelmed by the challenges of a church that was losing influence and supporters, and years of turmoil in the Vatican were taking their toll.
He resigned in a Latin statement to the cardinals in February 2013, later saying the decision was the result of a mystical experience.
Eleonora Matsechek, 19, who was in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, said his death was “sad because he was a good pope”.
“He was brave to have resigned,” she said.
Francis, 86, has said he might resign at some point as well.
In an interview this month, he revealed for the first time that he had signed a letter of resignation nearly a decade ago should poor health prevent him from carrying out his duties.
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