Two popes in Vatican as Benedict flies back
Sixty-three days after he shocked the world by relinquishing the papacy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was flown by helicopter back to the Vatican, where he will live out the rest of his days.
His return heralds the start of an unprecedented chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, in which for the first time two Popes will live together within the walls of the tiny city state.
The 86-year-old Pope Emeritus was flown from Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside Rome where he has been living since renouncing the Seat of St Peter on February 28.
The 15-minute flight took him back over the rooftops and church spires of Rome, in a reversal of the historic journey he took on his last day as pontiff.
His white helicopter landed on a helipad in a far corner of the Vatican gardens, from where he was driven to the former convent, which has been converted into his retirement home.
There he was met by his successor, Pope Francis (76) and the two men prayed together in a chapel adjoining the ex-convent.
"He is happy to be back at the Vatican... where he intends to dedicate himself to the service of the Church, above all with prayer," the Vatican said in a statement. The Mater Ecclesiae convent, situated on a hill within the city state, commands views of St Peter's Basilica, the Spanish Steps and other famous Rome monuments, and the distant Apennine mountains.
It is a 10-minute walk from Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where Pope Francis has chosen to live since his election, after he rejected the option of living in the much larger and more sumptuous papal apartments.
Vatican analysts have speculated that the presence of a "shadow pope" could cause difficulties for Francis, with the risk that Vatican insiders unhappy with the radically different style of the new Pope could look to the Pope Emeritus for guidance and even form a rebel faction.
"Benedict almost certainly will be a point of reference for critics of Francis, especially in conservative circles.
"You can easily imagine them saying, 'Benedict wouldn't have done it this way,'" said John Allen, a Vatican analyst with the US-based 'National Catholic Reporter'.
But Vatican officials insist that the Pope Emeritus intends to devote the rest of his life to study and prayer and will not be making public pronouncements that could contradict those of his successor. (© Daily Telegraph, London)