VATICAN CITY - Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI came home to the Vatican on Thursday for the first time since he resigned Feb. 28, beginning an unprecedented era for the Catholic Church of having a retired pontiff living alongside a reigning one.

Pope Francis welcomed Benedict outside his new retirement home - a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens - and the two immediately went into the adjoining chapel to pray together, the Vatican said.

The Vatican said that Benedict, 86, was pleased to be back and that he would - as he himself has said - "dedicate himself to the service of the church above all with prayer." Francis, the statement said, welcomed him with "brotherly cordiality."

A photo released by the Vatican showed the two men, arms clasped and both smiling, standing inside the doorway of Benedict's new home as his secretary looked on.

Alarming

Unlike the live, door-to-door Vatican-provided television coverage that accompanied Benedict's emotional farewell in February, the Vatican provided no television images of his return Thursday.

The low-key approach followed the remarkable yet somewhat alarming images transmitted March 23 when Francis went to visit Benedict at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where Benedict was living. In that footage, Benedict appeared visibly more frail and thinner only three weeks after resigning.

Some Vatican officials questioned whether those images should have been released, given how frail Benedict appeared. Thursday's photo showed no obvious signs of further decline.

'Slowly ebbing'

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has acknowledged Benedict's postretirement decline but has insisted he was not suffering from any specific ailment.

"He is a man who is not young. He is old and his strength is slowly ebbing," Lombardi said this week. "However, there is no special illness. He is an old man who is healthy."

Benedict chose to leave the Vatican immediately after his resignation to physically remove himself from the process of electing his successor and from Pope Francis' first weeks as pontiff.

His absence also gave workers time to finish up renovations on the monastery tucked behind St. Peter's Basilica. In the compact, four-story building, Benedict will live with his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, and the four consecrated women who look after him, preparing his meals and tending to the household.