Crowds of mourners poured into St. Peter’s Square for the early Thursday Mass. Which Pope Francis presided over.
By Rhoda Kwan
Tens of thousands gathered at the Vatican on Thursday for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. A stalwart of conservative values who shocked the Catholic Church when he resigned a decade ago.
Mourners dressed in black poured into St. Peter’s Square ahead of the Mass, which began at 9:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET). Pope Francis presided — with the pontiff leading the farewell to his predecessor in an event unprecedented in modern times.
As fog shrouded the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, the ceremony began with a prayer by Francis for Benedict. And readings were made in Spanish, English and Latin. Hymns sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir included Psalms 23 and Hallelujah.
Francis honored Benedict in his homily but didn’t dwell on his specific legacy. And only uttered his name once, in the final line.
Prayers were also said in German, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Italian.
Francis placed his hand on Benedict’s cypress coffin as it was being carried into St. Peter’s Basilica. Before placing his hand on his chest and bowin. The coffin was led away from the square to applause and cheers from the crowds.
Benedict, who died New Year’s Eve at the age of 95, shocked the Catholic Church. When he retired in 2013, becoming the first pontiff to do so in 600 years. That decision will shape his legacy. As will the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church in recent years.
In 2013, He ceded the papacy to Francis. Who is widely seen as a more reformist leader. And spent his twilight years living at the Vatican in a refurbished monastery.
Because Benedict was no longer a head of state when he died. Only two countries, Italy and his native Germany, sent official delegations to the funeral. But other world leaders and royals attended in a private capacity.
Heavy security measures were enforced in the Holy See to ensure the event’s safety. With more than 1,000 Italian security personnel deployed and its air space closed for the day.
Some 50,000 people attended Thursday’s Mass, according to the Vatican.
Among the prominent clergy who attended the funeral was Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, his secretary said. Zen, a retired 90-year-old bishop. Has been at odds with Francis over the Vatican’s deal with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops.
Around 200,000 people paid their respects as Benedict’s body lay in state at St Peter’s Basilica from Monday to Wednesday evening.
The Pope’s body was placed in a simple wooden coffin. After the funeral ceremony.
At his request, Benedict will be buried in the underground Vatican grotto in the niche where the first popes. John XXIII and then John Paul II, were buried.
A written account of the pope’s life will be buried with him in his coffin, the Vatican has announced. The document cites his theological and papal legacy. Including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews. And his efforts to combat sexual abuse of clergy. “Calling the church to constant conversion, prayer, penance and purification”.
Francis hailed him as a “great master of catechesis” to a general audience. At the Vatican on Wednesday, paying special tribute to his “intense and gentle thought”.
Born in a small Bavarian village. The former Joseph Ratzinger joined the priesthood in 1951. And rose to the leadership of the Catholic Church in 2005.
But the church’s sex abuse scandal brought an end to his time as pontiff.
He continued to tell his more liberal-minded successor. After he stepped down from the papacy. And in September 2020 was the longest-living pope, surpassing Pope Leo XIII.
His death drew tributes from around the world
President Joe Biden, America’s second Roman Catholic president. With a lifelong devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”
The soft-spoken Pope is remembered by those who knew him as a shy man.
Michael Hessmann, a German historian and Vatican journalist. Who met Benedict personally several times, called him “a humble man” “with a beautiful sense of humor.” Who would “look deep into your eyes” when talking to someone.
“The lives of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict and Pope Emeritus Benedict, are all associated with one quality. And that is humility,” said Christopher Bellitto. A church historian at Kean University in New Jersey.
Benedict’s decision to step down due to ill health could change the papacy forever, experts say.
The decision was “part and parcel” of his belief that “the office” is bigger than any one person, Bellito said.
“In the world we live in, who leaves power? The answer is no one. And yet he did,” he said.