VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is lucid, conscious and stable but his condition remains serious, the Vatican said Thursday, a day after revealing that the 95-year-old’s health had recently deteriorated .
A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Pope Francis had asked for prayers to continue “to accompany him in these difficult hours.”
On Wednesday, Francis revealed that Benedict was “very ill” and visited Benedict at his home in the Vatican Gardens where he has lived since retiring in 2013, raising fears he was near death.
The Vatican later said Benedict XVI’s health had deteriorated in recent hours but the situation was under control as doctors were monitoring him.
Benedict in 2013 became the first pope in 600 years to retire, and he chose to live out his retirement in seclusion in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens. Few expected his retirement – now in his 10th year – to last longer than his eight-year reign as pope.
Bruni said on Thursday that Benoît “managed to rest well last night, is absolutely lucid and aware and today, while his condition remains serious, the situation at the moment is stable.”
“Pope Francis renews the invitation to pray for him and to accompany him in these difficult times,” he said.
Responding to this call, the Diocese of Rome has scheduled a special Mass in honor of Benedict on Friday at St. John Lateran, the former basilica of Benedict in his capacity as bishop of Rome.
Benedict’s declining health immediately raised questions about what would happen when he died, given the unprecedented reality of having a reigning pope presumably presiding over the funeral of a former pope.
Most Vatican experts expect a funeral to be like that of any retired bishop of Rome, but with the caveat that there would be official delegations to honor a former leader. State, as well as pilgrims from Germany – the homeland of Benedict, the former Joseph Ratzinger – and beyond.
While St. Peter’s Square was mostly packed with foreign visitors on Thursday – during the peak Christmas tourist season – some Italians had come to pay their respects or at least offer a prayer.
“Obviously it’s 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,” said a pilgrim, Giorgio Gibin.
Another visitor to the square, Anna Małcka, noted Benedict’s advanced age and wished him good luck.
“I think he’s been through enough now, poor thing, and as he’s sick he’s not well, God willing he’ll take him away,” she said.
Otherwise, as the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano headlined its Thursday editions with news about Benedict’s health, life went on as normal in the tiny city-state that Benedict and Pope Francis call home.
Francis had a seemingly routine audience day Thursday, meeting his ambassador to Madagascar, the commander of the Swiss Guards and a fellow Jesuit.
In the square, the line of tourists waiting to enter St. Peter’s Basilica wrapped almost entirely around the square, with couples and families stopping to pose for selfies in front of the life-size nativity scene and the Christmas tree installed in the square.
Small groups of nuns scurried across the cobblestones and tour guides holding flags gathered their loads, while nearby souvenir vendors did a good business selling Vatican magnets, rosaries and statues of Francois bobblehead.
“We hadn’t heard the news,” said Liam Marchesano, a 22-year-old economics student from Mantua who was waiting to see the basilica with his girlfriend. “Maybe that’s why there’s such a long queue.”
Luigi Navarra and Joel Paqui contributed to it.