This week brought another historic moment in church history. As of Thursday, there are two popes living in Vatican City.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican after two months living in the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. His helicopter left the papal estate at 4:30pm local time and arrived at the heliport in the Vatican Gardens fifteen minutes later.
Waiting to greet him on the ground was small delegation of officials, including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello. The retired pope was driven to his new home, the Mater Ecclesia Monastery, where Pope Francis was waiting to greet his predecessor. The two popes made a brief stop in the monastery’s chapel for a moment of prayer.
In a statement released shortly after the retired pope’s arrival, Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict XVI will dedicate himself to serving the church through prayer.
The retired pope will live in the monastery with his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein and the four consecrated laywomen known as “memores domini.”
The monastery had been empty since November 2012. The building was originally the Vatican gardener’s house and was even used by Vatican Radio for a time. In 1994 John Paul II ordered renovations to expand the building and turn it into a convent for cloistered nuns.
That same year a group of Poor Clares was invited by Pope John Paul II to move into the convent and spend their days praying for the church and the pope. Since then groups of Discalced Carmelites, Benedictine and Visitation sisters have lived in the convent. Each order spent either a five year or three year term living in the Mater Ecclesia convent, praying for the church.
The Visitations sisters ended their term in the convent in November and renovations began on the building, which was in need of a new roof.
The Mater Ecclesia monastery is located close by the replica Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens. Both Pope Francis and the retired Pope Benedict have personal devotions to Our Lady of Lourdes, which has fueled speculation that the two men could conceivably meet casually for prayer at the grotto.
Whether or not that ever happens remains to be seen. Even if it does, it is entirely possible the rest of the world will never know. What is certain? Once again, the church is making history.