Pope Benedict XVI joins Pope Francis in unprecedented ceremony

Feb 22 2014, 20:18 IST
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Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony. AP Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony. AP
SummaryPope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony Saturday creating the cardinals who will elect their successor in an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future.

Benedict discreetly entered St. Peter's Basilica surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews. He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.

It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago and became the first pope to step down in more than 600 years.

The significance of his presence was multifold, signaling both continuity and even a sign of Benedict's approval of the 19 men Francis had chosen to join the College of Cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose primary job is to elect a pope.

Francis' choices largely reflected his view that the church must minister to the peripheries and not be a self-reverential institution but rather a place of welcome and mercy. He named cardinals from some of the world's poorest countries, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast among them, tapping many pastors like himself.

Saturday's ceremony was also the latest step in the evolving reality of having two popes living side-by-side in the Vatican. Over the summer, the two men appeared together in the Vatican gardens to unveil a statue, but Saturday's event marked one of the most important liturgical ceremonies a pope can preside over: the formal installation of new cardinals.

In that way, Benedict's presence marked a first step in reintegrating him into the public life of the church after a period of being hidden away that began almost exactly a year ago with his Feb. 28, 2013 resignation.

With Saturday's precedent, chances grew that Benedict would also appear at the April 27 canonization of his pope, John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII.

After processing down the central aisle at the start of the service, Francis went directly to Benedict, clasped him by his shoulders and they embraced.

The crowd erupted in polite applause again when one of the new cardinals, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, greeted Benedict in his introductory remarks, saying ''We are grateful for your presence here among us.''

Benedict, dressed in his white cassock with a long double-breasted overcoat, again smiled and waved.

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