Pope Francis Asks for Prayers for ‘Very Ill’ Benedict

ROME — Pope Francis on Wednesday asked those present at his weekly audience to pray for the retired Pope Benedict XVI, who Francis said was “very ill.” In their prayers, Francis said, people should ask God to console Benedict and “support him in this witness of love to the church, until the end.”

Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, said in a statement that, after the audience, Francis had visited Benedict, 95, at the monastery on Vatican City grounds where Benedict has lived since announcing his resignation in February 2013. Benedict was the first pope in six centuries to step down. Increasingly frail, he has rarely made public appearances in recent years.

Mr. Bruni said that Benedict’s health had “deteriorated in recent hours due to advancing age.” The situation, he added, was “under control at the moment, and was constantly monitored by doctors.”

When he resigned nearly 10 years ago, Benedict had cited his declining health, both “of mind and body.” He had said that “due to an advanced age,” his strengths were “no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of leading the church, which had led to his decision to resign freely, and “for the good of the church.”

Since then, he has mostly stepped back from public life, dedicating himself to prayer and meditation.

“I’d like to ask all of you for a special prayer for emeritus Pope Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Francis said on Wednesday at the end of his hourlong audience.

When Benedict turned 95 in April, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former pope’s longtime personal secretary, said that Benedict was in “good spirits.” In an interview with Vatican News, a Vatican-controlled outlet, Archbishop Gänswein said that Benedict was “of course physically relatively weak and frail, but lucid.”

The archbishop also said in the interview that Benedict read and dealt with correspondence and that he met with visitors but that he found it difficult to be the main celebrant at Mass because he did not have the strength.

This month, during an awards ceremony named for his predecessor, Pope Francis honored Benedict, remarking on the “spiritual presence and accompaniment in prayer” of the retired pope.

Pope Francis last visited Benedict in August, along with a group of prelates who had been elevated as cardinals that day.

A video released by the Vatican at the time showed a very frail Benedict receiving the greetings of the new cardinals. He and Francis blessed them at the end.

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