Vatican sends message: Pope's retirement for real
Already, Benedict was changing his schedule to take into account his new circumstances. He had been scheduled to go to a church on Rome's Aventine hill for the annual Ash Wednesday service starting the church's Lenten season this week; the service will take place in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome instead.
Lombardi said a larger space was needed to accommodate the throngs expected to greet the outgoing pope — but observers suspect the Vatican may have also wanted to spare a tiring Benedict from the crowds along the hill.
Immediately after his resignation, Benedict will spend some time at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano in the hills south of Rome where he has spent his summer vacations reading and writing. By March, the weather may start to warm up and he should be able to enjoy the gardens and feed the goldfish in a pond near a statue of the Madonna where he often liked to visit.
If he's interested, he can do some star gazing; The Vatican Observatory is located inside the palazzo, complete with a telescope and a world-class collection of meteorites.
Lombardi said Benedict would eventually return to the Vatican and live at a monastery inside the Vatican gardens. Asked if he might like to go somewhere else, Lombardi said the pope would feel "much safer" inside the Vatican walls.
The Mater Ecclesiae monastery was built in 1992 on the site of a former residence for the Vatican's gardeners. Pope John Paul II had wanted a residence inside the Vatican walls to host contemplative religious orders, and over the years several different orders have come for spells of a few years, said Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
The last such order of nuns left the residence in October, and renovation work began immediately afterward, Vian told The Associated Press. He said Benedict had decided to retire last April after his taxing but exhilarating trip to Mexico and Cuba in March.
"Many people thought they were doing the renovations for new sisters, but it was for the pope," Vian said. He said only a few people knew of the pope's plans, yet the secret didn't get out.
"That shows the seriousness and loyalty of the few senior Holy See officials who were aware," he said — a reference to the 2012 scandal over leaked papal documents by the pope's own butler.
Benedict has visited the monastery, with its own chapel on the grounds, a handful of times over the years.
There's a garden right outside the front door, where the nuns living there would tend to the lemon and orange trees as well as the roses, which are used in liturgical ceremonies or sent as gifts to the pope. No chemical fertilizers are used, just organic fertilizer sent straight from the gardens at Castel Gandolfo.
Georg Ratzinger confirmed that his brother has no intention of returning to live in his native Bavaria.
"You don't transplant an old tree," Ratzinger said.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
Associated Press staffer Trisha Thomas contributed from Vatican City.
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