Pope praises ‘wise, tender’ Benedict at solemn burialon January 5, 2023 at 12:23 pm

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Former Pope Benedict’s funeral takes place at the Vatican, as Francis celebrates Mass with pilgrims.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before Pope Pope Francis (L) for him to pay his respects at the end of his funeral mass at St. Peter's square in the Vatican on January 5, 2023Image source, Getty Images

The dome of the Basilica was shrouded in mist as the cypress-wood coffin containing the body of former Pope Benedict was brought out and placed on the steps facing St Peter’s Square.

There was applause from the faithful who had gathered for the funeral.

Pope Francis, who presided over the service, was brought out on to the dais in a wheelchair.

Clergy from around the world were there – cardinals in red vestments, nuns and monks in their dark robes.

Latin chants sung by the Sistine Chapel choir echoed across the square. The mood was solemn and subdued.

Daniele, a teacher, who had met the former pontiff at a church in Rome, told me the weather matched the occasion. “The fog represents the mystery of Pope Benedict, the mystery of death and life. I feel very happy and emotional to be in St Peter’s Square.”

The pope was “an important voice in the church”, Daniele said.

During the Mass, concelebrated by cardinals, bishops and priests, Pope Francis spoke of “wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years”.

“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom,” he said referring to Jesus, “may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever.”

Some 50,000 mourners came to the funeral, according to police. Official delegations were there from Italy and from former Pope Benedict’s home country of Germany. Other leaders, including the king and queen of Belgium attended in a private capacity.

Benedict’s death brings to an end the era of a pope and a former pope living side by side in the Vatican – an unprecedented situation brought about by Benedict’s resignation almost a decade ago.

In February 2013, I stood watching in St Peter’s Square as he flew away from the Vatican in a helicopter, at the end of his pontificate.

The ceremonies surrounding his death have been simpler than those for a sitting pope.

Over the past few days, some 200,000 people came to the Vatican to pay their respects to the former pontiff, as he lay in state in front of the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica.

Pilgrims hold a banner during the funeral ceremony of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) in Saint Peter's Square, in Vatican City, 05 January 2023. Former Pope Benedict XVI died on 31 December 2022 at his Vatican residence, at the age 95.

Image source, ETTORE FERRARI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

On the day before the funeral, I joined the long line of visitors and mourners queuing to view his body. Dressed in red and gold vestments, he had a rosary clasped in his white, waxy hands.

There was no display of usual papal regalia like the silver staff, a sign that he was no longer Pope when he died.

But in line with tradition, a lead tube containing an account of Benedict’s papacy, as well as other items, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, were placed in the coffin.

At the end of the service, the choir sang “May the angels lead you into paradise.” Pope Francis placed his hand on the wooden coffin in a final prayer, before it was carried away, to be sealed and placed in another coffin of zinc and an outer one of wood.

It was buried in the crypt under St Peter’s Basilica, where Pope John Paul II was originally interred in 2005 before his body was moved up to a chapel, after his beatification.

While many leading figures have praised Benedict since his death – paying tribute to his theological studies – there has also been criticism, particularly by victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The Snap Survivors network said the former pope “virtually ignored the burning problem of clergy sexual abuse during his tenure in office”.

“In his more than 25 years as the world’s most influential religious figure, Pope Benedict XVI fell short in protecting children and adults around the world.”

Pope Francis attends the funeral mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as pallbearers carry the coffin at the end of the funeral mass at St. Peter's square on January 5, 2023

Image source, Getty Images

In St Peter’s Square, feelings about the former pope were mixed. Gaia from Sardinia said that while Benedict had been “a very good pope, I prefer Pope Francis. I think that he’s closer to people in 2023”.

Simona from Monza in northern Italy told me she was concerned that Francis might follow Benedict’s example and retire.

“I’m worried that he is sick,” she said. “And I really do hope that he still has the strength to keep the Church united and to go on and give hope to this world.”

Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent of the Catholic magazine, said Francis now faced a new moment in his pontificate but he expected him to continue his pace of reform within the Church.

“The death of Benedict does leave it open for Francis to step down if he wishes but I wouldn’t bet on it because this Pope really has a lot to accomplish in terms of reforms.”

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