Former Pope Benedict XVI dies age 95; was first pope to resign

Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, has died in Vatican City at the age of 95 following a period of ill health.

Benedict, who was the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, passed away on Saturday, according to a statement from the Vatican.

News of his death came days after Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for Benedict, saying he was “very sick.”

“I want to ask you all for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict who sustains the Church in his silence. He is very sick. We ask the Lord to console and sustain him in this witness of love for the Church to the very end,” Francis said at his general audience on Wednesday.

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis went to the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City to visit Benedict, the Vatican said. There had “been a deterioration due to the advancement of his age” over the previous few hours, a Vatican spokesman said on Wednesday, adding that doctors were monitoring the situation.

His health had been in decline for some time.

Benedict stunned the Catholic faithful and religious experts around the world on February 11, 2013, when he announced plans to step down from his position as Pope, citing his “advanced age.”

Full obituaries:

The death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is beihg marked in the holy city of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the world.

Church bells rang out continuously throughout the labyrinthine alleys of Jerusalem’s old city and across Israel and the Palestinian territories as news broke of the former pope’s death. Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa planned an official commemoration mass on Sunday and issued a statement of mourning.

More on the the latest on the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Bookended by globally popular and charismatic popes — St. John Paul II and Pope Francis — Benedict cut a different figure. Friends and biographers described him as quiet and scholarly, more at home among theological tomes than adoring crowds.

In typical fashion, Benedict announced his unexpected resignation in Latin. He was 85 at the time and cited his advanced age as ill-suited for the demands of running the Catholic Church.

The German-born Benedict saw himself, and the church, as a bulwark against secular trends in Western society, particularly what he called the “dictatorship of relativism.” He often insisted that Catholics maintain a fortress mentality, saying perhaps a smaller, “purer” church would best maintain Catholicism’s traditions and teachings.

Benedict XVI had a long and illustrious career as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s pre-eminent theologians. But for all his accomplishments and accolades, however, Benedict will forever be known as the first pope in 600 years to resign.

If ever there was a moment that embodied the surreal novelty created by the first papal resignation in 600 years, it came on the morning of March 23, 2013: Newly elected Pope Francis had traveled to the papal summer retreat south of Rome and was greeted on the helipad by the previous pope, Benedict XVI, who had moved there three weeks earlier.

Two men in white — a reigning pope and a retired one — each showing the other the deference owed to a pontiff and discussing the future of the Catholic Church as it passed from one papacy to the next.

But for some, that moment on the helipad of Castel Gandolfo encapsulated everything that was wrong with Benedict’s surprise resignation and the risks it posed to the very unity of the Catholic Church and the institution of the papacy.