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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 29, 2022
Pope Francis visits with Pope Benedict XVI at the retired pope's residence after a consistory at the Vatican in this Nov. 28, 2020, file photo. This photo was released by the Vatican Feb. 9 after Pope Francis, at his general audience, praised Pope Benedict's comment in a statement the previous day recognizing his own presence before "the dark door of death." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

A day after announcing that Benedict XVI’s health had deteriorated and that the emeritus pope was “very ill,” the Vatican announced Thursday morning that Benedict XVI was “lucid and alert” but his medical condition remains grave. The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement to journalists: “The emeritus pope was able to rest well last night. He is absolutely lucid and alert and although his condition remains serious, his situation is stable at the moment.” Pope Francis “renews his invitation to pray for him,” Mr. Bruni said, “and to accompany him in these difficult hours.”

Vatican spokesman: "He is absolutely lucid and alert and although his condition remains serious, his situation is stable at the moment.”

Sources in Rome report that Benedict XVI began to experience respiratory problems even before he concelebrated Christmas Mass this past weekend in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery where he lives at the Vatican. The problems became severe enough that his longtime assistant, Mgr. Georg Gänswein, had to return from vacation in Germany. Vida Nueva and other media quoted the monsignor as saying that Benedict is “stable [but] in a grave condition.”

America has learned that Benedict has also experienced a blockage of the kidneys that has contributed to his present condition. Benedict, who is 95, had suffered slight strokes and lost sight in one eye in the past, and he also has had heart problems and has a pacemaker. For some time now, he has not been able to speak, and is physically very fragile.

The pope’s vicar for the diocese of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, called on the eternal city’s faithful to join in prayer for their emeritus bishop. The vicar general for the diocese of Rome, Bishop Guerino Di Tora, will celebrate a public Mass for Benedict in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on the afternoon of Dec. 30.

Prayers for Benedict also came in from around the worldwide church. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo in Yangon, Myanmar, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), called on all the faithful “to pray for this holy man, whose witness even today continues to bless the church.” He described Benedict as “an erudite scholar, whose books have brought the understanding of the message to millions” and said, “his contribution to Vatican II, his strong support of the mission of Saint John Paul II and his intellectual acumen are memorable contributions to the church today.”

Moreover, the cardinal added, “He remained faithful to the tradition and the teachings of the church.” Cardinal Bo asked the Asian faithful to join “our dear Pope Francis” and “kneel down in prayers, knocking at the heavenly doors, for greater health and [for the] long life of witness of this holy Pope.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, asked the faithful in the United Kingdom in a tweet, “Let us join with Pope Francis in praying for Pope Emeritus Benedict, and asking the Lord to sustain and console him at this time.”

The German and Italian bishops and a number of bishops in the United States also asked for prayers for Benedict, as did the Greek Catholic major archbishop of Ukraine, Sviatoslav Shevchuk.“The whole Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church wants to unite in prayer around this great witness of our times, thanking him for his silent witness as Pope Emeritus,” said Archbishop Shevchuk in a statement, “and at the same time remembering and seeking to put into practice his work for the unity of the Church, which was an extraordinary feature of his pontificate.”

Because Benedict’s resignation from the papacy was unprecedented, no public protocol exists for the funeral Mass of a former pope.

The Vatican has not yet released any details regarding eventual funeral arrangements, though sources say these have been in place for some years. Because Benedict’s resignation from the papacy in 2013 was unprecedented in modern times, no public protocol exists for the funeral Mass of a former pope. Sources suggest that this ceremony will be a solemn one, less formal than for a pope who dies in office but more stately than for a cardinal who dies. The Requiem Mass and final benediction is expected to take place in St. Peter’s Basilica and be presided over by Pope Francis, roughly within a week of Benedict’s death.

Prior to that, it is likely that the former pope will lie in state in the basilica for some days, to allow the faithful to pay their last respects to the emeritus bishop of Rome. Many cardinals are expected to attend the funeral, as well as some heads of state, such as the German and Italian presidents, and the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

In an interview with his biographer, Peter Seewald, the emeritus pope said he wished to be buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in the tomb where John Paul II was buried in 2005. The Polish pope’s remains were transferred to the main basilica around the time of his canonization and placed under an altar next to the shrine of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

The Vatican has not confirmed if Benedict has written a last will and testimony that will be made known after his death.

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