VATICAN CITY — Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI traveled to his native Germany on Thursday to be by his brother's sickbed and will stay there as long as necessary, the Vatican said.
Benedict, 93, arrived in Regensburg, where his 96-year-old brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, lives and was the long-time choirmaster.
Benedict was accompanied by his long-time personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, a doctor, a nurse and the deputy commander of the Vatican's gendarmerie corps.
Also traveling with the retired pontiff was a celibate laywoman who keeps his household in order at the monastery on Vatican grounds where he has lived since shortly after his 2013 retirement from the papacy, a decision that stunned the world.
"It is perhaps the last time that the two brothers, Georg and Joseph Ratzinger, will see each other in this world," Regensburg diocese spokesman Clemens Neck said, using Benedict's name before he became pope.
The diocese said that Benedict landed in Munich at 11:45 a.m., and was greeted by Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, who accompanied the retired pope to Regensburg. Benedict will stay at the Regensburg seminary.
The Vatican declined to say how Benedict traveled, but Italian media reported that Italy's government had lent an official aircraft, apparently operated by the Italian air force, for the flight to Munich. Then the retired pontiff was reportedly driven to Regensburg. It was his first voyage outside of Italy since stepping down from the papacy.
Pope Francis reportedly went to greet Benedict on Thursday morning shortly before his departure.
The German Bishops Conference welcomed Benedict in a statement earlier Thursday, saying "we are happy that he has come to his homeland, where he belonged for some years to our bishops conference, even if the occasion is sad.
"The emeritus pope will be close to his brother, whose health condition has worsened," the bishop's conference said. "We wish the (emeritus) pope a good stay in Germany, and the necessary quiet to care for his brother in private."
The Regensburg diocese invited anyone who wanted to express their closeness to the brothers to do so with "silent prayer."
The retired pope himself is quite frail, and while generally living a secluded retirement in a Vatican retreat house, he occasionally has appeared in public, and Francis has visited him at times.
Joseph Ratzinger is reserved in nature. But his low-key announcement in February 2013 that he was stepping down because he felt he hadn't the strength to handle the rigors of the papacy rocked the Vatican and startled faithful worldwide. Elected to the papacy in 2005 to succeed St. John Paul II, Ratzinger was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign the post.
At the end of that month, he was flown by helicopter from the Vatican to the papal holiday residence in Castel Gandolfo, where he stayed during the initial part of the papacy of Francis, his successor. Later, Benedict settled in at the monastery at the Vatican.
Although Benedict pledged when exiting the papacy to live out his life "hidden from the world," he has occasionally expressed his views, upsetting some critics who have objected to both his taking the title of "emeritus" pontiff and his living a stroll away from Francis' residence at the Vatican.
Earlier this year, Benedict caused a flap with his purported involvement in a book that insisted celibacy for priests stay as church teaching. The book was published just as Francis was mulling calls from some in the church to allow married men to be ordained in places of extreme shortages of priests.
The Ratzinger brothers are extremely close and share a lifelong passion for classical music.
Benedict last visited Regensburg, spending time with his brother, while pope, in 2006. Georg has been a frequent visitor to the Vatican, where Joseph Ratzinger had long served as a cardinal, in charge of ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy.
The times he saw his brother during papal retirement included the 2017 celebration of Benedict's 90th birthday, when he and other Bavarian well-wishers toasted his brother with large steins of beer.
On that occasion, Gaenswein called the brother's visit to Benedict "the most beautiful birthday gift."
In April 2012, in the last full year Benedict was pope, Georg attended a concert with his brother at the Vatican.
When the city of Castel Gandolfo offered honorary citizenship to his brother, Benedict XVI said of his sibling: "From the beginning of my life my brother has always been for me not only a companion, but also a trustworthy guide. For me he has been a point of orientation and of reference with the clarity and determination of his decisions."
Geir Moulson reported from Berlin.