- About 50,000 mourners attend the outdoor ceremony
- The former pope was the standard-bearer of conservative Catholics
- Pope Benedict is buried under St. Peter’s Basilica
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis led the funeral of former pope Benedict on Thursday touching his predecessor’s coffin as he stood on a cane in front of tens of thousands of mourners, some calling on the late pontiff to do so. become a saint.
Benedict’s death on Saturday ended a decade of living side by side with the past and present pope in the Vatican, and marked the first time in more than 200 years that a pope had led the service for his predecessor.
His death was a loss for conservatives who longed to return to a more traditional church symbolized by Benedict, who shocked the world in 2013, when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign rather than rule for life.
At the end of the funeral in St. Peter’s Square, some people shouted in Italian “Santo Subito!” (Make him a saint now!). It was the same phrase used at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, although many people were at the time.
Three of the last five popes have been designated saints, but only about a third of all popes have been canonized in the church’s 2,000-year history.
While many prominent figures have paid tribute to Benedict since his death, criticism has also been aired, including by victims of clerical sexual abuse, who have accused him of seeking to protect the Church at all costs.
Francis, who sat for most of the service due to a knee ailment, including while reading a homily, in which he only mentioned Benedict by name once in a service attended by 50,000 people in a square shrouded in mist.
He eventually rose as Benedict’s coffin was being carried away for his private burial inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Bowing his head in silent prayer, Francis touched the coffin briefly.
At 86 years old, Francis, who used to use a wheelchair but shows no signs of slowing down, with trips to Africa and Portugal planned in the coming months, is now a year older than Benedict when he retired.
Francis himself had made it clear that he would not hesitate to step down one day if his mental or physical health prevented him from performing his duties, but Vatican officials always doubted his ability to do so while Benedict was alive.
An account of Benedict’s papacy, along with other items, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, was placed in his coffin. The account, written in Latin, says that Benedict “fought resolutely” against sexual abuse by clergy in the Church.
Although Benedict largely avoided public appearances after his resignation, he remained a standard-bearer for the Catholic conservatives, who felt alienated by the reforms initiated by Francis, including the suppression of the ancient Latin liturgy.
In the tweets, author Rod Dreher, an influential figure with American Christian conservatives, called the sermon “awful.” Dreher denounced the “meanness and stinginess of Francis’ meager words today”.
After the mass, the coffin was wrapped in red ribbons in the shape of a cross. Pictures from the Vatican showed that workers later placed her in a zinc coffin and welded its doors together. Then both were placed in a wooden coffin, which was lowered into the crypt.
People from all over the world, many from Benedict’s native Germany, arrived in the early hours to see them off, including a few heads of state and some members of the European royal family.
“It’s a sad but meaningful day. I wanted to be here so much to feel it in my heart,” said an Italian woman who gave only her first name, Mariana.
“I told myself I had to come to Holy Mass to accompany him in prayer,” said Dorotea Dadiki, a Rwandan woman living in Rome.
Xavier Mora, 24, a Spaniard preparing for the priesthood, said he studied Benedict’s theology and had “a great deal of affection and appreciation.”
About 200,000 people filed past Benedict’s body as it lay in the state for three days through Wednesday evening.
The service began when 12 pallbearers, to the sound of bells tolling, carried the coffin bearing Benedict’s remains out of the church and laid it on the ground in front of the largest church in Christendom. Bells also rang in German cities.
The last time a reigning pope presided over the funeral of his predecessor was in 1802, when the service was led by Pius VII, whose body was returned to the Vatican after his death in 1799 in exile.
In his homily, Francis used more than a dozen biblical references and church writings in which he appeared to compare Benedict to Jesus, including his last words before his death on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
During the Mass, which was officiated by 125 cardinals, 200 bishops and about 3,700 priests, Francis spoke of “the wisdom, tenderness and devotion he has given us over the years”.
He mentioned Benedict in the last line: “Benedict, faithful friend of the bridegroom, (Jesus) complete your joy as you hear his voice now and forever!”
At his request, Benedict was buried in the underground Vatican grottoes at the burial place of Pope John XXIII and then John Paul II before their remains were moved to more prominent locations in the basilica above.
Writing by Philip Pullella and Crispian Palmer; Editing by Mark Heinrichs, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Allison Williams
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