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Rare outing for Pope Benedict to summer residence

Castel Gandolfo, a summer residence of popes since the 17th Century, pulled up its shutters Tuesday for a two-week visit by retired pontiff Benedict XVI.

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Castel Gandolfo, a summer residence of popes since the 17th Century, pulled up its shutters Tuesday for a two-week visit by retired pontiff Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis, who eschews the charms and comforts of the palace in the Alban hills southeast of Rome, invited his 88-year-old predecessor to spend time there over the summer and visited him on Tuesday morning to wish him a happy holiday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

The trip represents a rare outing for Benedict from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City where he has spent his time in prayer and study since his 2013 resignation on the grounds of failing health.

Unlike Francis, who does not take holidays, Benedict has long enjoyed Castel Gandolfo’s cooler air and extensive gardens.

He retired there for two months after his historic decision to step down and during his time as pope he regularly had long summer stays there.

He has described long walks in the gardens as an aide to meditative thought, although these days he is only capable of short strolls.

Francis’s reluctance to leave the Vatican except on official trips has been a blow to tourist businesses in the small town of Castel Gandolfo but this has been partly offset by his decision to open the gardens to visitors.