Millions to attend Pope Benedict’s funeral on Thursday

For the first time, a Pope will be buried by his successor

Aleem Maqbool Elsa Maishman
BBC News (Vatican and London), January 2, 2023

Tens of thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to former Pope Benedict XVI when his lying in state begins at the Vatican later.

He died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 95, almost a decade after he stood down because of ill health.

Pope Francis will preside over Thursday’s (January 5, 2023) funeral – the first time a Pope will be buried by his successor.

As dawn broke over the Vatican, a queue was already forming at the edge of St Peter’s Square.

At the very front was Father Alfredo Elnar (30) from the Philippines. He said that he had studied and admired the theological writings of the former pontiff and spoke of emptiness since his death.

A little further back, Sister Marianna Patricevic, a nun from Croatia, talked of how grateful she was for all the late Pope had done – saying there was not a subject she studied at university where they did not discuss his views.

Father Richard Kunst, visiting from the US, said when he passes the Pope’s body, he would pray for him – but also for a miracle to help a friend at home who is dying of cancer.

First Pope to resign

Benedict XVI became the first Pope to resign in 600 years in 2013, citing ailing health.

His body will be displayed for three days in an open casket at St Peter’s Basilica, with people allowed to pay their respects until 7 pm each evening. The funeral will take place in St Peter’s Square before Pope Emeritus is laid to rest in the tombs beneath the Basilica.

The Vatican released pictures of the body on Sunday (January 1, 2023), dressed in red papal mourning robes and wearing a gold-trimmed mitre.

Tributes have poured in from around the world, and the funeral is expected to draw crowds of thousands.

The last papal funeral, that of Pope John Paul II in 2005, was one of the largest Christian gatherings in history and drew an estimated four million people to Rome.

Benedict asked that the funeral be marked by simplicity, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists.

Details of the guest list have not been released, but the Vatican has said that it will include delegations from Italy and Benedict’s native Germany.

Emily McGarvey of BBC News writes

About Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict was a controversial figure, and some have criticised him for failing to tackle allegations of clerical sexual abuse. He led the Catholic Church for fewer than eight years until, in 2013, he became the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.

Benedict spent his final years at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within the walls of the Vatican where he passed away at 09:34 (08:34 GMT) on Saturday (December 31, 2022).

His successor Pope Francis will lead the funeral on January 5, 2023

Bells rang out from Munich cathedral and a single bell was heard ringing from St Peter’s Square in Rome after the death was announced.

In his first public comments since news of Pope Benedict’s death broke, Pope Francis called him a gift to the church, describing him as a noble and kind man.

At a New Year’s Eve service at the Vatican, he paid tribute to his “dearest” predecessor,” emphasising “his sacrifices offered for the good of the church.”

The Head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that Pope Benedict was “one of the great theologians of the 20th century.”

In a statement, he said: “I remember with particular affection the remarkable Papal Visit to these lands in 2010. We saw his courtesy, his gentleness, the perceptiveness of his mind and the openness of his welcome to everybody that he met.”

Leaders’ tributes

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the former Pope “a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was a historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.”

King Charles III said that he received the news of Pope Benedict’s death “with deep sadness” and recalled “with fondness” meeting him during a visit to the Vatican in 2009.

“I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.”

Joe Biden, the second Catholic to serve as US President said that Pope Benedict “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.” He singled out the Pope’s remarks during a 2008 visit to the White House in which the former pontiff said, “the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Pope Benedict “worked with soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world” and said his thoughts went out to Catholics in France and around the world.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Pope Benedict “was a giant of faith and reason.”

“He put his life at the service of the universal Church and spoke, and will continue to speak, to the hearts and minds of men with the spiritual, cultural and intellectual depth of his Magisterium.”

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said for many, not only in Germany, Pope Benedict was “a formative figure of the Catholic Church, a forthright personality and a clever theologian.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins said that the former Pope would be remembered for “his untiring efforts to find a common path in promoting peace and goodwill throughout the world.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said Pope Benedict was “one of the greatest theologians of his age – committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Pope Benedict as a “defender of traditional Christian values,” in his New Year address to the nation.

The above Reports have been published under a Special Arrangement with BBC News.

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