- Around 50,000 mourners attend an outdoor ceremony
- The ex-pope was the standard-bearer for traditionalist Catholics
- Pope Benedict buried under St. Peter’s Basilica
VATICAN CITY, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Pope Francis led the funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, tenderly touching his predecessor’s coffin as he stood leaning on a cane in front of tens of thousands of people in mourning, with some calling on the late pontiff to be made a saint.
Benedict XVI’s death on Saturday ended a decade of life side by side between the former and the current pope at the Vatican and it was the first time in more than 200 years that a pontiff headed the service of his predecessor .
His death was a loss for conservatives who yearned for a 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 step down rather than rule for life.
At the end of the funeral in St. Peter’s Square, people shouted in Italian “Santo Subito!” (Make him a saint now!). It was the same phrase used at Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2005, although by many more people at the time.
Three of the last five popes have been made saints, but only about a third of all pontiffs have been canonized in the Church’s 2,000-year history.
While many prominent figures have praised Benedict since his death, criticism has also been aired, including by victims of clergy sex 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 condition, stood at the end as Benedict’s coffin was carried away for a private burial inside St. Stone. Bowing his head in silent prayer, Francis briefly touched the coffin.
At 86, Francis, who uses a wheelchair but has shown no signs of slowing down, with trips planned for Africa and Portugal in the coming months, is a year older now than Benoît was when He has taken his retirement.
Francis himself has made it clear that he would not hesitate to resign one day if his mental or physical health prevents him from carrying out his duties, but Vatican officials have always doubted that he can do so as long as Benedict was still alive.
A record of Benedict’s papacy, along with other artifacts, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, were hidden in his coffin. The account, written in Latin, indicates that Benedict XVI “fought firmly” against sexual abuse by clergy in the Church.
Even though Benedict largely avoided public appearances after his resignation, he remained a standard bearer for conservative Catholics, who felt alienated by the reforms introduced by Francis, including the crackdown on the Old Latin Mass.
After the service, the casket was wrapped in red ribbons in the shape of a cross. Workers then put him in a zinc coffin and welded it shut, Vatican footage showed. Both were then placed in a wooden coffin, which was lowered into a crypt.
People from all over the world, many from Benedict XVI’s native Germany, had arrived in the early hours of the morning to say goodbye. Italian police said around 50,000 people were in the square, including some heads of state and members of the European royal family.
“It’s a sad but meaningful day. I wanted to be here so badly that I can feel it in my heart,” said an Italian who only gave her first name, Marianna.
Dorotea Dadaeki, a Rwandan woman living in Rome, said, “I thought to myself that I should come and attend Holy Mass to accompany her in prayer.”
Xavier Mora, 24, a Spaniard preparing for the priesthood, says he studied the theology of Benedict XVI and has “great affection and esteem” for him.
Around 200,000 people marched past Benoît’s body as it lay in state for three days until Wednesday evening.
The service began when, to the sound of bells, 12 pallbearers carried the coffin containing Benedict’s remains out of the basilica and placed it on the ground in front of Christendom’s largest church. Bells were also ringing in German cities.
The last time a reigning pope presided over a predecessor’s funeral was in 1802, when Pius VII conducted the service for Pius VI, whose body returned to the Vatican after his death in 1799 in exile.
In his homily read as he sat at the altar, 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 die on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend My spirit.”
During the Mass concelebrated by 125 cardinals, 200 bishops and around 3,700 priests, Francis spoke of the “wisdom, tenderness and dedication he bestowed on us over the years.”
He only mentioned Benedict by name once, in the last line, saying, “Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, (Jesus) may your joy be complete in hearing his voice, now and forever. !
More than 1,000 Italian security personnel were called in to help protect the event, and the airspace around the tiny Holy See was closed for the day. Italy has ordered flags across the country to be flown at half-mast.
At his request, Benedict was buried in the underground caves of the Vatican in the niche where Pope John XXIII and then John Paul II were buried before their remains were moved to more important locations in the basilica above.
Written by Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Alison Williams
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