'The Last Conversations' - a book of interviews with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI by German journalist Peter Seewald has just been published, in Italian and German. The English version will be available in late November under the title 'Last Testaments'.
The interviews cover a wide range of subjects among them his decision to resign, his happiness about his successor, reflections on his participation at the second Vatican Council, and his collaboration with St John Paul II.
The 89-year-old pontiff was the first pope to resign from office in modern history. Since stepping down from the papacy in 2013, he has continued to live in the grounds of the Vatican but is now unable to walk unassisted and has lost the sight in one eye.
Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, his former spokesman and Director of the Holy See's Press Office, said: "The last time of his life is preparation for the encounter with God... This is a very important witness, profound, spiritual; a witness of faith."
Fr Lombardi goes on to say that this theme "justifies this book", because his explanation of "how he experiences now the presence of God in his life is something that is precious and urgent..."
Reflecting on the election of Pope Francis, Benedict says he was initially shocked. When the black smoke turns to white during the conclave, the retired pope - a self-avowed 'news junkie' - admitted he was "glued to the television to see who won". "No one expected him.. When I first heard his name, (Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio) I was unsure ... I knew him, naturally, but I did not think of him. In this sense it was a big surprise. I did not think that he was in the select group of candidates. But when I saw him speak on one hand with God, and on the other with people, I was truly content and happy."
Benedict watched the new pope on television as he came out to address the crowds in St Peter's Square, asking them to pray for him and taking the name Francis. "What did touch me ... was that even before going out onto the loggia, he tried to phone me," Benedict said.
Fr Lombardi says the book "says again clearly and I think in a definitive way the reasons of his resignation, eliminating every rumour, every false interpretation." Benedict says in the book: "No, it was a time I had already overcome the difficulties and then there was the good time to take a decision before God in total responsibility and this I have done and I am happy with this decision and I have not changed my mind."
The Pope Emeritus says his feels his eight years in the papacy were a time of service but he thinks he could have done better. "My weak point perhaps is a lack of resolve in governing and making decisions ... Here, in reality, I am more a professor, one who reflects and meditates on spiritual questions. Practical governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness."
These are areas, he goes on, to which Pope Francis is much more suited. Describing him as "a man of practical reform", he says the Argentinian has the soul to intervene and take measure of an organisation. "He was an archbishop for a long time, he knows the trade.. " "He was a superior of Jesuits and has the ability to put his hands to action in an organised way. I knew that this was not my strong point."
An English translation, entitled 'The Last Testaments' will be available in November.