VATICAN CITY (AP) — Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican on Monday after a four-day visit to his ailing elder brother in their native Germany in what was his first trip out of Italy since he resigned as pope.
Benedict, a Bavarian native, flew from Munich to Rome aboard an Italian air force plane. He was seen off by Bavaria’s governor, Markus Soeder, who said it was a moment “of happiness and melancholy,” news agency dpa reported.
Benedict returned to his home in the Vatican gardens in the early afternoon, said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni. It was his first trip outside Italy in over seven years.
The 93-year-old retired pontiff arrived in Germany on Thursday to be with his 96-year-old brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. The two brothers have long been close and were ordained priests on the same day, June 29, 1951.
On Saturday, Benedict greeted old neighbors and prayed at his parents’ grave. He stayed at a seminary during his trip, visiting his brother twice a day.
Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzers said Germans saw Benedict in all his frailty during the brief visit, saying it was clear the retired pope was himself “near his end.”
“He speaks in a low, almost whispering voice, and he visibly has trouble articulating. But his thoughts are fully clear; his memory and his powers of deduction are phenomenal.”
Voderholzer noted that for nearly every aspect of his life, Benedict must rely on the help of others, but he praised Benedict for allowing his frailty to be seen.
“It takes a lot of courage, but also humility to put yourself in the hands of other people, and also to show up in public. It was clear to him that he could not be hidden entirely,” he said after Benedict had left.
Benedict has lived at a monastery on the Vatican grounds since shortly after his 2013 retirement, a decision that stunned the world. Elected to the papacy in 2005 to succeed St. John Paul II, the former Joseph Ratzinger was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign the post.
He was succeeded by Pope Francis.