Pope Benedict’s funeral draws thousands to the Vatican
Crowds of mourners poured into St. Peter’s Square for the Mass, which Pope Francis presided over.
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. EST). The event was presided over by Pope Francis, with a living pontiff leading the farewell to his predecessor for an event that is unprecedented in modern times.
As fog shrouded the top of St Peter’s Basilica, the ceremony began with a prayer by Francis for the late pope emeritus, 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.
“God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor. Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years,” Francis said in the homily.
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 bowing to the late pope. The coffin was led away from the square to applause and cheers from the crowds.
Benedict, who passed away on 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 have been enforced in the Holy See to ensure the event’s safety, with over 1,000 Italian security personnel deployed and its air space closed for the day.
Among prominent clergymen attending the funeral were Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, his secretary said. Zen, a retired 90-year-old bishop, has been sharply at odds with Francis over the Vatican’s agreement with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops.
Almost 200,000 people have paid their respects to the pope’s body as it laid in state at St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday until Wednesday evening.
The pope’s body was placed in a plain wood coffin. After the funeral ceremony, the coffin was taken back inside the basilica and encased in zinc before being sealed in a second wooden casket.
At his request, Benedict will be buried in the underground Vatican grottoes in the niche where first Pope John XXIII and then John Paul II were interred before their remains were transferred to more prominent places in the basilica above.
A written account of the pope’s life will be buried with him in his coffin, the Vatican announced. The document cited his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat clergy sexual abuse “continually calling the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification.”
Pope Francis hailed the late pope emeritus as a “great master of catechesis” at a general audience in the Vatican on Wednesday, paying special tribute to his “acute and gentle thought.”
Born in a small Bavarian village, the pope formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger joined the priesthood in 1951 and rose to lead the Catholic church in 2005.
He was widely considered a champion for the church’s conservatives, but the end of his time as pontiff was marred by the church sex abuse scandal.
He continued to advise his far more liberal-minded successor in private after resigning the papacy and was the longest-living pope, having surpassed Pope Leo XIII in September 2020.
His death led to tributes from across the world.
President Joe Biden, America’s second Roman Catholic president, said in a statement that Benedict “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”