Since he resigned from the papacy over three years ago, Benedict XVI rarely gives interviews. In a recent exception, however, the former pontiff took the time to chat not only about his successor, but the saints who've accompanied him throughout his life.

In the interview, published Aug. 24 in Italian newspaper La Reppublica, Benedict said he has been serene and happy since his resignation, and that while there were "smaller and larger difficulties" in his pontificate, there were also "many graces" that came from the fact that he wasn't alone.

"From the beginning I was conscious of my limits and I accepted, as I have always sought to do in my life, in a spirit of obedience," he said.

"I realized that all I had to do I couldn't do alone and so I was almost forced to put myself in the hands of God, to entrust myself to Jesus, to whom, as I gradually wrote my volume on him (Jesus of Nazareth), I felt bound by an old and ever deeper friendship."

Aside from Jesus himself, Benedict said Mary also played a key role in supporting him through the difficulties he faced. Moments when he felt particularly close to her, he said, were when he was "reciting the holy rosary and in the visits to the Marian sanctuaries."

While Jesus and his Holy Mother are certainly first on the list for any Pope to turn to, Benedict also named several individual saints and Fathers of the Church who have played a key role throughout his life and pontificate.

He said his "travel companions for life" have always been "St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure," whom he referred to as "my masters of the Spirit."

The retired pontiff also pointed to his namesake, St. Benedict, whose motto "Prefer nothing to Christ" became "ever more familiar" throughout his time as Bishop of Rome.

Finally, and a bit ironically, Benedict said that St. Francis, "the poor man of Assisi," has been another close companion on his journey. St. Francis, he said, was "the first to intuit that the world is the mirror of the creative love of God, from whom we come and toward whom we are journeying."

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As a side note, while it was Pope Francis who penned the environmental encyclical Laudato Si' in 2015, Benedict XVI had long been referred to as the "Green Pope" for the emphasis he placed on creation. It was he who had solar panels installed on the roof of the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, pushing for the small city-state to become a completely carbon-free zone.

Benedict said the consolation he received during his pontificate came not just from above, but arrived daily through the letters of "humble and simple people that wanted to inform me that they were close to me, that they prayed for me."

This support, he said, hasn't stopped, but "has continued even after my resignation, for which I can be only grateful to the Lord and to all those who have expressed and still are manifesting their affection."

Speaking about Pope Francis, Benedict said that obedience to his successor "was never in discussion," but that since Francis' election, a feeling of "deep communion and friendship" has arisen between the two.

"At the moment of his election I experienced, as many, a spontaneous feeling of gratitude toward Providence," he said, explaining that after having two Pope's from Central Europe, "the Lord was turning, so to speak, his gaze to the Universal Church and invited us to a more extensive communion, more Catholic."

Benedict said he was deeply moved by Pope Francis' "extraordinary human availability to me" from the beginning.

He noted how immediately after Francis was elected, the new Pope attempted to call him at his residence in the Vatican's Mater Ecclesiae monastery. Having failed to reach him, Francis called again right after greeting faithful from the balcony of St. Peter's, this time succeeding.

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Pope Francis "spoke to me with great  warmth," Benedict recalled, noting that since that day "he has given me the gift of a wonderfully paternal-fraternal relationship."

Not only does Francis frequently send "little gifts" and personal letters to Benedict, but he also makes sure to visit his predecessor before embarking on every major trip he takes.

"The human benevolence with which he treats me, is for me a special grace of this last phase of my life for which I can only be grateful," Benedict said.

"What he says about availability to other men, are not only words. He puts it into practice with me. May the Lord in turn make him feel his benevolence every day. This I ask the Lord for him."

Benedict's interview was given to Italian author Elio Guerrero, whose book "Servant of God and Humanity: The biography of Benedict XVI," will be released Aug. 30 in Italian.

Not only does the book include a preface by Pope Francis himself, but it will also feature Guerrero's entire interview with Benedict XVI. There is currently no date announced for an English publication of the book.