Builders working on secret renovation of Pope's retirement home for months
Published 13/02/2013 | 04:00
For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.
Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.
Yesterday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house.
The restoration has become even more critical following Benedict's stunning announcement that he will resign on February 28 and live his remaining days here in prayer.
From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning Pope and a retired one, Benedict is facing uncharted territory as he becomes the first Pontiff in six centuries to retire.
The Vatican tried to quash any notion that Benedict aimed to pull strings behind the scenes.
The Rev Federico Lombardi, a top spokesman, said Benedict would have no influence on the election of his successor.
"The Pope will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of election," he said.
The 85-year-old Benedict said on Monday he was stepping down simply because he no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on.
Rev Lombardi, yesterday, also revealed for the first time that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and had its battery replaced just a few months ago.
Although no date for a conclave to choose the next Pope has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his February 28 retirement.
That means a new Pope will likely be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter – March 31 this year.
The decision immediately raised questions about what Benedict would be called, where he would live – and how that might affect his successor.
The Vatican's senior communications adviser, Greg Burke, said the fact that Benedict had chosen to live in a monastery is significant.
"It is something that he has wanted to do for a while," Mr Burke said. "But I think it also suggests that his role is going to be a very quiet one.
As for his name, Burke said Benedict would most likely be referred to "Bishop of Rome, emeritus" as opposed to "Pope Emeritus".
Immediately after his resignation, Benedict will spend some time at the Papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano in the hills south of Rome.
The Mater Ecclesiae monastery was built in 1992, on the site of a former residence for the Vatican's gardeners.
Pope John Paul II had wanted a residence inside the Vatican walls to host contemplative religious orders, and over the years several different orders would come for spells of a few years, said Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of the Vatican newspaper 'L'Osservatore Romano'.
"Many people thought they were doing the renovations for new sisters, but it was for the Pope," Mr Vian said.
He said only a few people knew of the Pope's plans, yet the secret didn't get out.