Former Pope Benedict is “absolutely lucid and alert” and his condition is serious but stable, the Vatican said.

The update comes a day after Pope Francis said his predecessor Benedict XVI was “very ill” and asked the faithful to pray for the retired pontiff so that God consoles him “until the end”.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said: “The Pope Emeritus was able to rest well last night. He is absolutely lucid and alert today, although his condition remains serious, the situation is currently stable. The Pope Francis renews his invitation to pray for him and accompany him in these difficult times.”

Pope Francis did not give details of Benedict’s condition when he made a surprise appeal for people to pray for him at the end of his general audience yesterday.

The Vatican said after the service that the 95-year-old’s condition had suddenly “worsened due to age”.

A Vatican spokesman said he was receiving constant medical care and his condition was “under control”.

Benedict became the first pope in some 600 years to step down in 2013, with the former pontiff taking the title of pope emeritus.

Since then he has lived in the Vatican.

He has become increasingly frail in recent years after devoting his life after the papacy to prayer and meditation.

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Pope asks for prayers for Benedict XVI

Some cardinals and canon lawyers have questioned Benedict XVI’s decisions on retirement, including his decision to continue wearing the white cassock of the papacy.

Another point of contention was that Benedict XVI refused to revert to his birth name Joseph Ratzinger.

Critics say these choices and the continued presence of Benedict XVI in the Vatican have caused confusion for Catholics and threaten the unity of the Church.

Traditionalists were able to use Benedict as a conservative benchmark when they were unhappy with Francis’ decisions, they say.

BenoĆ®t resigned in 2013 due to his “deteriorating” health.

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