Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI is conscious and stable but condition remains serious

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is in a stable condition, the Vatican says. Credit: AP

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is lucid, alert and stable but his condition remains serious, the Vatican said on Thursday, after it revealed that the 95-year-old's health had recently deteriorated.

A statement from the Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Pope Francis asked for continued prayers “to accompany him in these difficult hours.”

On Wednesday Francis revealed that Benedict was “very ill” after he visited him at his home in the Vatican, where he has lived since retiring in 2013, sparking fears that he could be near death.

The Vatican later said Benedict's health had deteriorated in recent hours but that the situation was under control as doctors monitored him.

Mr Bruni said on Thursday that Benedict had “managed to rest well last night, is absolutely lucid and alert and today, while his condition remains grave, the situation at the moment is stable.”

“Pope Francis renews the invitation to pray for him and accompany him in these difficult hours,” he added.

The former head of the Catholic Church's health is declining, ITVX reports

Responding to that call, the diocese of Rome scheduled a special Mass in honor of Benedict on Friday at St John Lateran, Benedict’s former cathedral in his capacity as the bishop of Rome.

Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign, and he chose to live out his retirement in seclusion in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens.

Few had expected his retirement, now in its 10th year, to last longer than his eight-year reign as pope.

Word of Benedict’s declining health immediately posed questions about what would happen when he dies, given the unprecedented reality of having a reigning pope presumably presiding over the funeral of a former pope.

Most Vatican experts expect any funeral would resemble that for any retired bishop of Rome, albeit with the caveat that there would be official delegations to honor a former head of state, as well as pilgrims from Germany - homeland of Benedict, the former Joseph Ratzinger - and beyond.

In Germany on Thursday, bishops asked for prayers and some of the faithful headed to the Chapel of Grace on the town square in Altoetting, a major pilgrimage destination a few miles from Benedict's hometown of Marktl am Inn that he visited many times in his life.

Benedict still lives in the Vatican. Credit: AP

Herbert Hofauer, the retired mayor of the deeply Catholic town, who said he saw Benedict last in the spring, said: “I know that he has been preparing for his coming home in the eternal world.

"I believe that he is very calmly looking forward to this encounter.”

At the St Oswald church in Marktl, where Benedict was baptised, head of the local congregation Sandra Maier put up a framed picture of the former pope and arranged a small pew so parishioners could kneel and pray for him.

Ms Maier, 50, said she was “shaken and deeply moved by the news” on Benedict’s health.

“I wish for him to have an easy time now and not suffer so much,” she said.

“We are proud here in Marktl that we have a Bavarian pope. He’s a good man and was a great pope.”

Meanwhile, St Peter’s Square in the Vatican was mostly filled with visitors from abroad on Thursday, during peak Christmas tourist season.

One pilgrim Giorgio Gibin said: “Obviously it is a bad situation, we are all close to Pope Ratzinger, we are sad about the situation, so we came here to make our small contribution."

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano headlined its Thursday edition with the news of Benedict’s health.

Francis appeared to have had a routine day of audiences on Thursday, meeting with his ambassador to Madagascar, the commander of the Swiss Guards and a fellow Jesuit.

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