Pope Francis has asked for prayers for his predecessor, Benedict XVI, saying he is “very sick”. Pope Benedict XVI of the Roman Catholic Church resigned in 2013 due to advancing age.

Francis made the surprise appeal on Wednesday at the end of his general audience, giving no details.

Benedict, 95, resigned from his post due to advancing age in 2013 and became the first pope in about 600 years to do so. He has been living in the Vatican since then.

“I would like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Francis said, speaking in Italian.

“Let us remember him. He is very sick, asking the Lord to console and sustain him in this witness of love for the church, until the end,” he added.

One of the latest known photographs of Benedict was taken on December 1, when he met the winners of a prize for theologians named after him. He was seated and looked exceptionally weak.

Since his resignation Benedict has been living in a former convent inside the Vatican gardens, with his secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, and a few other aides and medical staff.