Pope Francis tells Benedict 'we are brothers'

Pope Francis meets his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis meets his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Photo: ABACA/ABACA/Press Association Images

Pope Francis lunched with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVII today in what is believed to be the first meeting between a head of the Catholic Church and his predecessor.

The reigning pope travelled from the Vatican to the hill town of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, to dined privately at the papal retreat.

The two men embraced as they met and Pope Francis was heard to say, "We are brothers".

He insisted that they pray side-by-side and discuss the future of the Catholic Church.

"It was a moment of great communion in the church", Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. "The spiritual union of these two people is truly a great gift and a promise of serenity for the church".

Benedict, 85, has been living at the Castel Gandolfo residence since he stepped down on 28th February and became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVII prayed together.
Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVII prayed together. Credit: ABACA/ABACA/Press Association Images

From the moment he was elected, Francis, 76, made clear he would go visit him, refusing in a way to let Benedict remain "hidden from the world" as he had intended.

The new pope also brought a gift for Benedict, an icon of the Madonna.

"They told me it's the Madonna of Humility", Francis told Benedict. "Let me say one thing - when they told me that, I immediately thought of you, at the many marvellous examples of humility and gentleness that you gave us during your pontificate".

The new pope and his predecessor discuss the future of the Catholic Church.
The new pope and his predecessor discuss the future of the Catholic Church. Credit: ABACA/ABACA/Press Association Images

Benedict replied, "Grazie, grazie".

The Vatican downplayed the remarkable reunion in keeping with Benedict's desire to stay out of the spotlight so as not to interfere with his successor's papacy.

There was no live coverage by Vatican television, and only a short video and still photos were released after the meeting. No details of the pair's private talks or lunch were released.