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Pope Francis tells Twitter followers ‘Thank God for Benedict XVI’ as Pope Emeritus turns 89

Pope Francis with Benedict XVI (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis has said we should give thanks for Benedict XVI on the Pope Emeritus’s 89th birthday. “Today is Benedict XVI’s birthday,” he tweeted. “Let us remember him in our prayers and thank God for giving him to the Church and the world.”

Speaking to journalists on the way to Lesbos today, Pope Francis added at the end of his statement: “One last word. I would like to remind you that today is Pope Benedict XVI’s 89th birthday. A prayer for him!”

Since abdicating from the papacy three years ago, Benedict has kept quietly in the background. He lives in the renovated Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican gardens, which was founded by St Pope John Paul II in 1990, cared for by a small community of women of Memores Domini, part of the Communion and Liberation movement.

He spends his time in prayer and contemplation, writing letters and sometimes playing the piano. He is rarely seen in public, and has made few public statements, ensuring that he does nothing to distract attention from his successor.

In a rare interview last month, Benedict praised Francis, saying: “His pastoral practice is expressed precisely in the fact that he speaks continuously of God’s mercy.”

The fact that so many people are open to that message, Pope Benedict said, shows that “under the patina of self-assurance” and a conviction of self-righteousness, “man today hides a deep awareness of his wounds and his lack of worthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.”

Pope Francis, who is 79 himself, has compared his predecessor to “a wise grandfather”. He frequently quotes from Benedict’s writings. In his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis wrote: “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.”