“His decision to retire has surprised me, but he is very brave, although he is fragile and elderly,” said the nun from the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who requested anonymity because of her cloistered life.
“But this decision is proof that he has a very lucid mind,” she stated, adding that “our self love does not allow us to see our own limitations, contrary to what Pope Benedict has done.”
“If I loved him before,” she declared, “now I love him even more.”
The sisters led a simple life with no staff. They spent their time praying and, for their 400th anniversary, made liturgical vestments for Pope Benedict to donate to poorer churches.
“One week before we left he asked us: ‘what will the Pope do without you?’ and he asked us to keep praying for him,” said the nun.
“His decision has made us cry, but he has been very brave,” she added.
The monastery, called Mater Ecclesiae, is 4,300 square feet and lies just west of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It contains a chapel, a choir room, a library, a semi-basement, a terrace and a visiting room that was added in 1993.
When Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he was going to resign from the papacy and live in the convent, speculation began to circulate about when he made his decision, since renovations began in Nov. 2012.
According to the Spanish nun, who currently resides in a convent in Madrid, the building had not been refurbished in 18 years and needed minor repairs.
“We had humidity in the basement, the windows needed changing, and the terrace on top needed fixing and painting because of past snow,” she explained.
“But the building is very small, so they had to wait for us to leave to begin working on it.”
Reflecting on her experience living in the Vatican convent, the Visitation nun said she and her fellow religious felt intensely that they “were the heart of the Church.”
“It was an experience that is very hard to put into words.”
Their mission was to pray for the Pope, for his trips, and accompany him in prayer on a daily basis.
The Spanish nun recalled how Pope Benedict would often thank them for their prayers and regularly checked up on their general well-being.
He originally wanted French nuns to live in the monastery, she explained, but due to the small number of vocations in France he decided it would be better to pick them from Spain.
The monastery was established in 1994 by Blessed John Paul II as a place dedicated solely to prayer for the Pope, his ministry and the cardinals.
The order of the Visitation of St. Mary was picked from among many other religious groups to live in the monastery from Oct. 7, 2009 until Oct. 7, 2012.
Their stay was extended for 15 days and they left the monastery on Oct. 22, just after Bl. John Paul’s feast day.
The seven sisters all came from convents in Spain, but one was from Colombia and another from Equatorial Guinea.
One of the nuns that lived in the monastery where the Pope will retire says his choice shows his “great simplicity” because it “is not a work of art or comparable with other Vatican buildings.”
Pope Benedict, Pope Resignation