Benedict joins cardinals ceremony
Published 22/02/2014 | 10:22
Retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony on Saturday creating the cardinals who will elect their successor in an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future.
Benedict discreetly entered St Peter's Basilica from a side entrance surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews.
He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.
It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago and became the first pope to step down in more than 600 years.
The significance of his presence was multifold, signalling both continuity and even a sign of Benedict's approval of the 19 men Francis had chosen to join the College of Cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose primary job is to elect a pope.
Francis' choices largely reflected his view that the church must minister to the peripheries and not be a closed institution of rules but rather a place of welcome and mercy.
He named cardinals from some of the world's poorest countries, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast among them, tapping many pastors like him.
In a sign that Benedict still commands the honour and respect owed a pope, each of the 19 new cardinals - after receiving his red hat from Francis at the altar - went directly to Benedict's seat to greet him before then exchanging a sign of peace with the other cardinals.
Saturday's ceremony was the latest step in the evolving reality of having two popes living side-by-side inside the Vatican: Benedict's presence marked a new phase of reintegrating him back into the public life of the church after a period of being hidden away that began almost exactly a year ago with his February 28 2013 resignation.
After processing down the central aisle at the start of the service, Francis went directly to Benedict, clasped him by his shoulders and they embraced.
Francis greeted him in the same way at the end of the service and Benedict removed his white skullcap in a sign of respect as Francis approached.
The crowd erupted in polite applause when one of the new cardinals, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, greeted Benedict in his introductory remarks at the start of the service, saying: "We are grateful for your presence here among us."
Benedict, dressed in his white cassock with a long double-breasted overcoat, again smiled and waved.
The occasion for this historic first was Francis' first cardinal-making ceremony to formally welcome 19 new "princes of the church" into the College of Cardinals.
He tapped like-minded cardinals from some of the world's smallest, most remote and impoverished nations: Two hail from Africa, two from Asia and six from Francis' native Latin America, which is home to nearly half the world's Catholics but is grossly under-represented in the church's hierarchy.