Church faces uncharted territory

  • Agencies, Vatican City
  • |
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2013 22:32 IST

For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.

Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.

On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a cargo container as the restoration deadline became more critical following Benedict's decision to quit on February 28 and live his remaining days in prayer.

From a new name to this new home to the unprecedented reality of having two living popes, Benedict is facing uncharted territory as he becomes the first pontiff in six centuries to retire.

Benedict, 85, who said he was standing down due to old age, will temporarily stay at the papal summer house at Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

During that time, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery building within the Vatican grounds - an oasis of calm with its own vegetable garden and blooming flowerbeds - will be renovated.

The Vatican said it expected his successor to be elected in time for Easter. It will be the first time in centuries that a pope and a former pope are alive at the same time.

"When the pope retires, he will first move to Castel Gandolfo and then, when the restoration works are finished, he will move to the Vatican, to the monastery in the Vatican's gardens," spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

"I don't think he will be a recluse," Lombardi added.

"It's an unprecedented situation, we'll see how it goes... He has often said that he wanted to dedicate his old age to writing and study, and I imagine he will do so."

The former monastery - the only one within the Vatican's walls - was built in 1992 after pope John Paul II said he wished to create a space to house those who dedicate their lives to contemplation.

Spread over three floors, the modern complex has 12 monastic cells upstairs, while the ground floor houses a kitchen, living room, library and chapel.

The cells are sparsely furnished: the only decorations to be seen are wooden crosses and a few paintings depicting scenes from religious life, according to the Vatican.

Benedict, a nature lover and a famously environmentally friendly pope who takes regular walks around the Vatican gardens, may spend his retirement days in the monastery flower garden.


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