Pope Benedict XVI funeral: Pope Francis pays tribute to predecessor at Vatican ceremony

Heads of state, royalty and clergy from around the world travelled to the Vatican to attend the historic event

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Thousands of mourners gathered in St Peter's Square on Thursday to pay their final respects to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he was laid to rest.

Pope Francis said a Papal Mass for his predecessor, who made history by becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to retire.

The event was live-streamed for millions around the world. The Vatican said about 50,000 people attended the mass, after about 200,000 paid their respects during the three days Benedict was lying in state.

Bishops, priests, monks, nuns and worshippers from around the globe flocked to Vatican City in recent days after the death of the former pontiff, at the age of 95, last Saturday.

Heads of state and royalty also made the journey, despite Benedict’s requests for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral for a pope emeritus in modern times low-key.

Bells tolled and the crowd applauded as 12 pallbearers carried Benedict’s cypress coffin out of the basilica and rested it before the altar in the piazza in front of red-robed cardinals.

Earlier, the crowd recited the rosary in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church.

Here are some key details from the ceremony:

· Pope Francis called Benedict a “faithful friend” of Jesus in a tribute to his predecessor

· The Pope tenderly touched the coffin while standing with the support of a cane

· During the mass, Francis spoke of the "wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years"

· The Vatican emphasised Benedict's outreach to Anglicans and Jews in an official document

· Mourners called for the Pope Emeritus to be declared a saint

· After the service, Benedict's remains were buried in a tomb in the Vatican grotto

'May your joy be complete'

During the open-air mass, Pope Francis, 86, gave a homily in honour of his predecessor, using his name just once.

Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom [Jesus], may your joy be perfect on hearing his voice, definitively and for ever,” he said.

Pope Francis said that “holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to entrust our brother into the hands of the Father".

“May those merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life,” he said of the former pope.

Pope Francis's words were a fitting remembrance of Benedict, who had spoken about his hope for the afterlife.

"When I try to imagine what heaven will be like, I think it must be like the time when I was a small boy,” he said in 2012.

“In this environment of trust, joy and love, we were happy, and I think that heaven must be rather like those early years.”

Earlier, a member of the congregation read a passage from the First Epistle of St Peter, a book in the New Testament, which touched on the purpose of life's challenges.

The reading noted how a faithful Christian will enjoy “praise and glory and honour” after “being plagued by all sorts of trials” in which their faith is “tested and proved like gold”.

“Only it is more precious than gold which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire,” the reader said.

The gospel reading that told the story of Jesus's crucifixion was sung in Italian.

Security at the Vatican was tight in the lead-up to the funeral as officials expected up to 100,000 people to attend the ceremony, Italian media reported. The figure was higher than the original estimate of 60,000.

Air space around the tiny Holy See was closed off for the day and Italy ordered flags around the country to be flown at half mast.

The faithful began to pour into the square from 4am local time (3am UK time) in the hope of securing a good seat.

The event was highly unusual in the way a sitting pope presided over the funeral of a former pope. While the ritual is novel, it does have some precedent: In 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in St Peter’s of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon.

However, Thursday's gathering was unique in nature as it marked the first time such a rare occasion was broadcast on TV screens around the world.

Some members of the congregation, mostly dressed in black, became emotional as hymns were sung and communion was distributed. Many carried flags from their respective countries, signalling the church's universality.

As the mass concluded, there were chants from the throngs of people packed into the square for the pope emeritus to be declared a saint. Shouts of “santo subito”, which means “saint now” echoed in scenes reminiscent of the funeral of Pope John Paul II when crowds called for him to be canonised.

Pope Francis, walking with the help of a cane, was given the opportunity to pay his final respects to his predecessor and offer a blessing. The pontiff placed one hand on the coffin and bowed his head in what appeared to be a brief moment of silent prayer.

The congregation applauded as white-gloved pallbearers known as the "Papal Gentlemen" carried the coffin into St Peter’s Basilica to be entombed in a private ceremony.

Many of the mourners seated in St Peter's Square hailed from Benedict's native Bavaria and wore traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to guard against the morning chill. A banner reading “Danke Papst Benedikt” which means “Thank you Pope Benedict” in German was displayed by one group.

“We came to pay homage to Benedict and wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Mainar, who travelled from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good pope.”

A traditional Bavarian marching band, made up of dozens of drummers and trumpet players, gave a performance during a procession from the square following the conclusion of the mass.

The funeral ritual itself was modelled on the code used for dead popes but had some modifications given Benedict was not a reigning pontiff when he died.

Benedict 'opened the door' to change

Benedict is considered one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians and spent his life upholding the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which has some 1.4 billion members around the world.

His legacy will be hallmarked by his retirement as it changed the widely-held view that the pope should remain in office until death.

Benedict, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the first German pope to be appointed in 1,000 years when he took office in 2005. He succeeded Pope John Paul II, who has since been declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis in the past praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” for other popes to do the same. Pope Francis, for his part, recently said he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions in which he too would resign.

The octogenarian suffers mobility issues stemming from a condition known as sciatica.

Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other heads of state and government took the Vatican up on its offer to come in their “private capacity".

They included several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy's Prime Minister, wrapped herself in a black scarf amid the morning chill as she sat next to Sergio Mattarella, Italy's president.

Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German President, and Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal's President, were also seen in the crowd, as well as Gitanas Nauseda, the Lithuanian President, and Andrzej Duda, the Polish President.

Queen Sofia of Spain sat alongside Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, who donned a black mantilla.

Members of Britain's royal family did not attend, but Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was sent as a representative of the government, alongside Chris Trott, the UK's ambassador to the Holy See. Ms Keegan told her Twitter followers it was "a great privilege to attend the very moving funeral of Pope Benedict XVI".

Cardinal Joseph Zen, who leads the church in Hong Kong, was another recognisable face at the event, having been given special court permission to attend the funeral.

The cardinal last year had his passport revoked when he was detained by authorities on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under China’s national security law. The incident unfolded after he participated in a democracy movement.

Two influential US churchmen, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, flew across the Atlantic to view the lying-in-state.

Benedict’s close confidants were also in attendance, including his long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who bent down and kissed a book of the Gospels that was left open on the coffin before the ceremony began.

Hours before the funeral, the Vatican released the official history of Benedict's life. The short document in Latin was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with the coins and medallions minted during his papacy. His pallium stoles — the vestments he wore while saying mass — were also placed in the casket.

The document gave ample attention to Benedict’s historic resignation and referred to him as “pope emeritus,” citing verbatim the Latin words he uttered on February 11, 2013, when he announced he would retire.

The document, known as a “rogito”, or deed, also referred to his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to tackle clergy sexual abuse “continually calling the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, leader of the communion of Anglican churches worldwide, paid tribute to Benedict as he was laid to rest.

"We give thanks today for the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI," he said on Twitter. "May his legacy of steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus continue to inspire all Christians."

After the mass, Benedict’s cypress coffin was placed inside a zinc one and then an outer oak casket, before being entombed in the crypt in the grottos underneath St Peter’s Basilica.

The crypt previously held the tomb of St John Paul II before it was moved upstairs.

About 200,000 paid tribute to Benedict during three days of public viewing in the basilica, with one of the last, Friar Rosario Vitale, spending an hour praying by his body.

He said Benedict gave him a special dispensation to begin the process of becoming a priest, which was required because of a physical disability.

“So today I came here to pray on his tomb, on his body and to say ‘thank you’ for my future priesthood, for my ministry,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI — in pictures

Updated: January 05, 2023, 2:48 PM