Vatican: Benedict in stable condition, participated in Mass

ROME (AP) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was in stable condition Friday after experiencing a health decline and was able to participate in a private Mass in his room, the Vatican said, as the faithful in Rome prepared to honor “this last stretch of his pilgrimage.”

The Vatican provided a new medical bulletin Friday afternoon saying Benedict had been able to rest well for a second night.

“He also participated in the celebration of Holy Mass in his room yesterday afternoon,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement. “At present his condition is stationary.”

On Wednesday, Pope Francis revealed that his 95-year-old predecessor was “very ill” and he went to see him in his home in the Vatican Gardens. Francis called for prayers for Benedict, resulting in an outpouring of messages of solidarity from rank-and-file Catholics and cardinals alike.

In 2013, Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign, saying he no longer had the strength of body or mind to lead the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church. His resignation paved the way for Francis’ election.

Benedict chose to live out his retirement in seclusion in a converted monastery in the Vatican, where he is being tended to by a team of doctors and his longtime papal family: his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, and a few consecrated women who tend to the household.

Later Friday, the cardinal vicar of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, was to celebrate a special Mass in Benedict’s honor at St. John Lateran basilica, technically Benedict’s onetime cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

According to the liturgical booklet released by De Donatis’ office, the Mass opens and closes with special prayers for the retired pontiff.

One of the opening prayers reads in part: “May the Lord support and console him with his presence in this last stretch of his pilgrimage, so that he may be a witness to Christ who is victorious even in suffering, continuing to offer himself for the good of the Church.”

Benedict has indicated that when he dies, he would like to be buried in the crypt in the grotto underneath St. Peter’s Basilica once occupied by the tomb of St. John Paul II, which was moved upstairs into the main basilica in recent years.

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