PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Like the faithful around the world, Catholics in Southern New England spent Wednesday awaiting further word from Rome after Pope Francis revealed that his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is “very sick.”

“I ask Catholics in the Diocese of Providence to be close to Pope Emeritus Benedict in their thoughts and prayers as his health declines,” Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin tweeted Wednesday morning.

“May our Holy Father be blessed with God’s grace and peace at this important time in his earthly pilgrimage,” Tobin added.

A spokesperson for Fall River Bishop Edgar da Cunha said the prelate is currently in Brazil visiting his family for the holidays, but said, “Bishop da Cunha continues to pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict.”

Parishioners who attended noontime Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul told 12 News they were saddened by the news from the Vatican.

“I’ll pray the rosary for him today,” said one woman attending the service, Sandra, who declined to give her last name. “And I’ll keep him in my heart, and in my thoughts, and in my prayers.”

Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1926, he chose the name Benedict when he was elected pope in 2005. Three years later, he made his only visit to the U.S.

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Providence priest Joseph Escobar was invited to celebrate Mass with Benedict at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City during that visit.

“As he entered the cathedral, you could hear the wave of applause,” Escobar told 12 News. “Quite an exciting and spiritual moment for all of us.”

Five years later, Benedict shocked the world by resigning from the position after just eight years, making him the first pope to step down in nearly six centuries.

Escobar also showed 12 News a framed papal blessing that Benedict sent his parish, Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Providence, on its 125th anniversary.

“I think he always sought the good of the church,” Escobar said. “His death will be a time of sadness, but also a time to give thanks to God for his ministry.”

Escobar said the announcement regarding Benedict’s health on Wednesday morning reminded him of a similar announcement that made headlines worldwide just a few months ago.

“It brought back memories of when Queen Elizabeth was declining,” he said.

Tolly Taylor ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook