VATICAN CITY — In an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future, retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony Saturday to formally install new cardinals who will one day elect their successor.
It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago, becoming the first pope to step down in more than 600 years. It may signal that after a year of staying "hidden from the world," Benedict may occasionally be reintegrated into the public life of the church.
Benedict entered St. Peter's Basilica discreetly from a side entrance surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews. He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.
"We are grateful for your presence here among us," newly minted Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, told Benedict in his introductory remarks.
Francis warmly greeted his predecessor at the start and end of the service, clasping him by his shoulders and embracing him. Benedict removed his white skullcap in a show of respect as Francis approached.
But in a sign that Benedict still commands the honor and respect owed a pope, each of the 19 new cardinals — after receiving his red hat from Francis at the altar — went directly to Benedict's seat to greet him before then exchanging a sign of peace with the other cardinals.
They had, however, already pledged their fidelity to Francis in an oath of obedience.
Saturday's surprise event was the latest in the evolving reality for the church of having two popes living side-by-side in the Vatican. Over the summer, Francis and Benedict appeared together in the Vatican gardens for a ceremony to unveil a statue. But Saturday's event was something else entirely, a liturgical service inside St. Peter's Basilica marking one of the most important things a pope can do: create new cardinals.