VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday praised his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for courageously following his conscience in deciding to retire.
Benedict became the first pontiff in 600 years to quit the post when he resigned in February, paving the way for Francis' election as pope two weeks later.
By lauding Benedict's surprise choice to step down, Francis put his papacy on record as supporting the move and leaving himself and future popes a possible way to leave what is traditionally an office held until death.
Francis told pilgrims, tourists and Romans in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that God made Benedict understand through prayer the step he had to take.
Benedict, then 85, explained when announcing his intention to resign that he felt he didn't have the mental and physical strength to continue as pontiff. The rare resignation dismayed some traditionalists in the Catholic church. But Francis praised Benedict for following his conscience "with a great sense of discernment and courage."
"We must learn to listen more to our conscience," said Francis, speaking from a window of the Apostolic Palace to the crowd in the square below.
"This doesn't mean following one's own ego, doing whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us," the pope said. Instead, "conscience is an interior space for listening to the truth, to good" and to God who "speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the path I must follow, and once the decision is taken, to go forward, to remain faithful."