(Left) Pope Benedict photo by Gregory A. Shemitz, (right) Pope Francis photo by Andrea Sabbadini.

Francis and Benedict embrace as “brothers” in first meeting of two popes

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Saturday (March 23) hailed his predecessor Benedict XVI as a “brother” in a historic first meeting between two living popes in more than 700 years. Francis left the Vatican by helicopter to visit Benedict, who has been living in the papal summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo since his resignation on Feb. 28. The two pontiffs were both dressed in white cassocks – the popes’ signature color – but Francis’ role as the ruling pope was signaled by the white sash and cape he donned over the vest. According to the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the two popes first went to pray together in the villa’s chapel.

Preparations for the Conclave are underway in the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel plays a key role in electing a new pope

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The tradition of voting for the new pontiff in the Sistine Chapel dates back to the Renaissance, but the location of the voting didn’t become a fixed feature of the conclaves until the 19th century — and only with John Paul II’s rules did the Sistine Chapel become the official theater of papal elections.