In a rare public statement, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said that he is becoming increasingly frail but is at peace with the prospect of death.
Benedict became the first Pope in 600 years to resign from the Seat of St Peter when he stepped down in February 2013.
His papacy was dogged by a series of crises and controversies on issues ranging from the widespread abuse of children by Catholic priests to the Church’s attitudes to Islam and homosexuality.
The 90-year-old wrote a letter to Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s leading dailies, in response to queries from readers as to his health and state of mind.
The letter, marked “urgent, by hand” was delivered to the newspaper’s offices in Rome from Benedict’s home – “Mater Ecclesiae monastery, V-120, Vatican City.”
He was deeply moved that “so many readers want to know how I am spending this last period of my life,” he wrote in the letter, which the newspaper printed on its front page on Wednesday.
“I can only say that with the slow waning of my physical forces, I’m on a pilgrimage towards home.
“It is a great gift for me to be surrounded, on this last stretch of this sometimes tiring road, by a degree of love and goodwill that I could never have imagined.”
He wrote the letter as the fifth anniversary of his historic resignation approaches.
Benedict stunned the world, including the Roman Catholic Church and his closest confidantes within the Vatican, when he unexpectedly announced his intention to resign.
He made the announcement during a gathering of cardinals in the Vatican, choosing to deliver the bombshell in Latin.
Many of the cardinals did not immediately understand what he had said, but the news was picked up by a sharp-eared correspondent from an Italian news agency, who happened to be well versed in Latin and landed herself a worldwide scoop.
Since then he has been living in a former monastery within the walls of the Vatican, a few hundred yards from where Pope Francis lives.
Benedict has appeared frail and thin during his few public appearances over the last couple of years, although aides say he has lost none of his mental acuity.
Pope Francis, his successor, was elected like all popes during a secret conclave of cardinals who gathered in the Sistine Chapel.
He is the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, the first Jesuit Pope and the first from the Americas.