Thousands of people came to St. Peter’s Basilica for the funeral of Benedict XVI

Mourners poured into St. Peter’s Square, hoping to pay their last respects to a pope who has gone down in history by resigning.

Rome, Italy. Mourners gathered in St. Peter’s Square early Thursday for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, hoping to pay the last respects to the German theologian who made history by retiring and taking part in a rare memorial service for the dead pope presided over by the living.

Thick fog shrouded the Vatican before dawn as civil protection teams and police set up metal detectors and barricades to gather well-wishers into the square. Police estimate that around 100,000 people will attend the event, up from an initial estimate of 60,000, Italian media reported, citing police security plans.

Francis is to preside over the funeral, an event attended by heads of state and members of the royal family, despite Benedict’s pleas for simplicity and the Vatican’s efforts to keep the pope emeritus’ first funeral in modern times discreet. Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed their attendance.

But other heads of state and government decided to accept the Vatican’s offer and speak in their “private capacity.” They included several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives.

The funeral rite requires that Benedict’s coffin be carried out of the basilica and placed in front of the altar while the faithful read the rosary. The ritual itself is modeled after the code used for deceased popes, but with some modifications given that Benedict was not the reigning pope at the time of his death.

After Mass, Benedict’s cypress coffin is to be placed in a zinc coffin, then an outer oak coffin, before being interred in a crypt in the grottoes below the basilica that once contained the tomb of Saint John Paul II before it was moved upstairs. main basilica.

Some 200,000 people paid their respects to Benedict during the three days of public viewing at St. Peter’s Basilica, and one of the last was friar Rosario Vitale, who prayed for an hour at his body. He said that Benedict gave him special permission to begin the process of becoming a priest, which was necessary because of his physical incapacity.

“So today I came here to pray at his grave, on his body, and say thank you for my future priesthood, for my ministry,” he said. “I owe him a lot, and it was a real gift for me to be able to pray for an hour on his stretcher.”

The former Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 31 at the age of 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and devoted his life to defending church doctrine. But he will go down in history for an extraordinary revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: he resigned, the first pope in six centuries to do so.

Francis praised Benedict for daring to step aside when he believed he no longer had the strength to lead the church, saying it “opened the door” for other popes to do the same. Francis, for his part, recently said that he had already left written instructions outlining the conditions under which he, too, would resign if he became incapacitated.

Benedict never planned for his resignation to last as long as it did, almost 10 years, which was longer than his eight-year pontificate. And the unprecedented situation of a retired pope living next door to the reigning pope has sparked calls for protocols to guide future honorary popes to avoid confusion over who is really in charge.

During St. John Paul II’s quarter-century as pope, the former Joseph Ratzinger led the crackdown on dissent as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, taking action against the leftist liberation theology that had spread to Latin America in the 1970s. and against dissenting theologians and nuns who did not adhere to the Vatican’s hard line on issues such as sexual morality.

His legacy has been overshadowed by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, although he was the first to recognize the “filth” of priests who raped children, and in fact laid the groundwork for their punishment by the Holy See.

As a cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping ecclesiastical legislation that resulted in the defrocking of 848 priests from 2004 to 2014, roughly equivalent to his pontiff with a year on either end. But those who survived the abuse still held him responsible for the crisis, for not sanctioning any bishop who moved the abusers, and identified him as the epitome of the clerical system that had long protected the institution from victims.

“Any celebration that celebrates the lives of abusers like Benedict must stop,” SNAP, a leading U.S. survivor group, said.

Although his funeral is new, it has precedent: in 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral at St. Peter’s of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon.

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