Thousands arrive at the Vatican for Benedict XVI’s funeral

Thousands of people flocked to St. Peter’s Square early Thursday morning for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and to pay their last respects to the German theologian who made history by retiring from office and attending a rare mass. substitute for it.

The bells rang and the crowd cheered as bearers carried Benedict’s cypress coffin from the basilica and placed it before the altar in the piazza under the gaze of the cardinals in red.

Heads of state, kings, clerics from around the world, and thousands of the faithful flocked to the Vatican despite the Pope Emeritus’s calls for a simple farewell and the Holy See’s efforts to make the first funeral of an honorary person in modern times a secret.

Many came from the former Cardinal Jochip Ratzinger’s native Bavaria and wear traditional costumes including woolen coats to protect them from the morning chill.

Archbishop Georg Ganswein kisses the Bible on the coffin of former Pope Benedict during his funeral, in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Kay Waffenbach

“We came to greet Benedict and we wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Menard, who traveled from a small town east of Munich to attend the funeral. “He was a very good father.”

Pope Emeritus, who died on December 31 at the age of 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and dedicated his life to defending the dogma of the Church. But he will go down in history for a unique and revolutionary declaration that changed the future of the papacy: he became the first pope in six centuries to retire.

His predecessor Francisco has praised his courage in stepping down, saying he “opened the door” for others to do the same. The Argentine pope recently indicated that he had already left written instructions on the terms under which he might resign.

Francis is expected to preside at the funeral, which authorities say could gather up to 100,000 people, far higher than the initial estimate of 60,000, Italian media reported, citing police security plans.

Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other leaders have accepted the Vatican’s offer and will attend in a “private capacity”. Among them were several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations from the royal houses.

Early Thursday, the Vatican released the official history of the life of Benedict XVI, a short document in Latin that was placed in a metal cylinder inside his coffin before it was sealed, along with coins and medals minted during the papacy.

The document pays close attention to his historic retirement and refers to Benedict as “Pope Emeritus,” quoting the Latin phrase he said in his February 11, 2013 announcement.

After Mass, Benedict XVI’s cypress coffin will be placed inside a zinc coffin and an outer oak coffin before being buried in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica, where St. John Paul II’s tomb was before it was moved to the top. the earth.

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