Vatican City, April 30 - Benedict XVI will return to the Vatican on Thursday to move into his permanent home at a renovated convent, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Tuesday. The former pope has been staying at the summer papal residence at Castel Gandolfo since stepping down at the end of February. In March he was succeeded by former Buenos Aires archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the name Francis. Benedict, who is now known as pope emeritus, will reside at the Mater Ecclesiae convent just a short walk away from Pope Francis, marking the first time two pontiffs have lived in the Vatican simultaneously. The ex-pope announced his resignation in February citing declining mental and physical strength, becoming the first pope to abdicate in almost 600 years. "He's an elderly man, weakened by age, but he has no illness," said the Vatican spokesman. Benedict will be joined at his new home by Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, his personal secretary, and members of Memores Domini, the conservative lay-Catholic group who staffed his apartment during his pontificate. His home includes a guest room for his brother Georg as well as an elevator. Benedict's quarters are up the first flight of stairs. The Vatican specified that Benedict's secretary Birgit Wansing will not live with the pope. Since his resignation, Vatican watchers have wondered about the implications of having two living popes, and whether Benedict would have any influence over Francis, especially if he ever deviated from Benedict's precedents. In personality, Francis has distinguished himself from his predecessor in a number of ways. With a beguiling grin and a visible eagerness to mix with the people, the Argentine pope's first month and a half on the job has been described as a charm offensive, from embracing a disabled boy at his inauguration, to washing the feet of juvenile detainees on Maundy Thursday, all with a warmth and nonchalance that some have compared to the demeanor of the beloved Pope John XXIII. Also in stark contrast to his German elder, Francis has scoffed at many of the trappings of the throne of St Peter. Upon being named pontiff after a short conclave on March 13, Francis opted to present himself to the world without the traditional papal red cape trimmed with ermine favored by Benedict. Perhaps most tellingly, Francis refuses to live inside the lavish papal apartment and insists on residing in Saint Martha's House, a Vatican residence for visitors where he is known to mingle with staff and pilgrim clergy alike, saying mass there every morning. Doctrinally, however, Francis has so far been just as staunch a traditionalist as Benedict. Just two weeks ago the Vatican said the new pope would continue the Church's critical position on the majority of American nuns for deviating from official Catholic doctrine. Francis is also known to have the same stiff position on abortion, gay rights and other ethical issues as his German predecessor. Many saw a symbol of such unity on display last month during the first meeting of two popes since 1415. At a mass inside a chapel at Castel Gandolfo, Francis and Benedict shared the papal kneeler and prayed together.
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di Sebastiano Caspanello