VATICAN CITY (CNS) — “The unity of the church is always at risk” and has been throughout its history, but “its unity always has been stronger than its internal struggles and wars,” said retired Pope Benedict XVI.

In a conversation with Italian journalist Massimo Franco, Pope Benedict said that for centuries, the church has been assailed by “wars, internal conflicts, centrifugal forces and threats of schism.”

“But in the end, the awareness that the church is and must remain united has always prevailed,” the retired pope said.

Quotes from the brief conversation were published June 28 by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which also ran several photos of the retired pontiff sitting on a bench outside his residence, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican gardens.

The 92-year-old retired pope also met with Italian newspaper cartoonist Emilio Giannelli, who showed him some of his drawings.

According to Giannelli, Pope Benedict “smiled and even laughed” at a drawing that showed him with a cartoonishly large nose. Another drawing was of the retired pope with former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Commenting on the political cartoon — which depicted the pope telling Monti he would “pray in German” for the failing Italian economy — Pope Benedict told Giannelli, “Italy is very much loved for its vacations; it’s less appreciated for its politics.”