Pope Francis led the funeral of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, on Thursday in front of tens of thousands of mourners in St Peter’s Square, an event unprecedented in modern times.
Red-clad cardinals, dignitaries and thousands of priests and nuns from around the world gathered to say goodbye to the German theologian, who stunned the Catholic church in 2013 by becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to resign. For the first time in modern history, the proceedings were led by a sitting pope, Francis, who delivered the homily in Italian as part of a multi-lingual service with a Latin mass.
“Benedict may your joy be complete as you hear his (God’s) voice, now and forever!” the pontiff said in tribute to his predecessor, who died last Saturday aged 95.
At the end of the service, Francis made the sign of the cross over Benedict’s simple cypress wood coffin and bowed his head, before 12 besuited pallbearers carried it into St Peter’s Basilica.
Benedict will be interred in a tomb in the crypt beneath the basilica, where John Paul II’s body lay in state before it was moved for his beatification in 2011. He was made a saint in 2014. Born Joseph Ratzinger, the ex-pope had not been a head of state for a decade, but world leaders, including German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, were among those in attendance.
An estimated 50,000 people were in the square for the funeral, according to police, many of them having queued up since dawn to bid farewell.
“Benedict is a bit like my father, so I had to pay homage to him,” said Cristina Grisanti, a 59-year-old from Milan, who hailed the former pope’s “purity, his candour, his mildness.”
An estimated 195,000 people had already paid their respects earlier when the body lay in state.
Benedict was the first German pope in 1,000 years, and church bells rang out across Germany as the funeral finished on Thursday, while many Germans were also at the Vatican.
“We owe him so much. We want to show that we stand behind him,” said Benedikt Rothweiler, 34, who came from Aachen with his family.
“We actually know too little about Benedict. He always accepted everything the way God wants it. This is a good example for us humans.”
Benedict was a brilliant theologian but a divisive figure who alienated many Catholics with his staunch defence of conservative doctrine on issues such as abortion.
His eight years as head of the worldwide Catholic Church was also marked by crises, from in-fighting within the Vatican to the global scandal of clerical sex abuse and its cover-up.
When he quit, Benedict said he no longer had the “strength of mind and body” necessary for the task, retiring to a quiet life in a monastery in the Vatican gardens. -JAZEERA