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ROME, February 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has sent a handwritten letter to readers of an Italian newspaper, telling them that “with the slow decline of my physical strength, interiorly I am on a pilgrimage Home.”

Benedict sent the letter to Corriere della Sera after its senior correspondent, Massimo Franco, contacted the pope emeritus “through a private channel” saying that many readers have been asking how he is, and “how he is doing in his hermitage inside the Vatican walls,” ahead of the five year anniversary of his resignation on February 11, 2013.

Yesterday an envelope marked “urgent hand delivery” arrived at Corriere della Sera’s Rome office. Franco said it contained a piece of folded paper, which held another sealed envelope containing a nine-line handwritten note signed by Benedict XVI.

The letter, translated and published in full below, appeared this morning on the newspaper’s front page. 

Dear Dr. Franco,

I was moved that so many readers of your newspaper want to know how I am spending this last period of my life. I can only say in this regard that, with the slow decline of my physical strength, interiorly I am on a pilgrimage Home. It is a great grace for me to be surrounded, in this last and sometimes a little tiring stretch of road, by such love and goodness that I could not have imagined. In this sense, I also consider the question of your readers as an accompaniment along a stretch. That is why I cannot but be grateful, and assure all of you of my prayers. Best regards.

Since his resignation in 2013, Benedict has been living in the Mater Ecclesiae [Mother of the Church] monastery in the Vatican gardens.

The monastery was established by Pope John Paul II with the intention of housing an international community of contemplative nuns that would pray for the pope and the Church, rotating from one contemplative order to another every five years. The last nuns to live at Mater Ecclesiae, were Benedictine, under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope emeritus vowed to remain at Mater Ecclesiae out of the public eye and dedicate his life to praying for the Church. Though he has regularly received guests and friends in private, including on his birthday, these visits have lessened in recent months.