Thousands of mourners flocked to St. Peter’s Square on Thursday for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
They paid their last respects to the German theologian, who made history in retirement and attended a rare funeral service for a dead pope presided over by a living pope.
Dense fog covered the Vatican before dawn as civil protection teams and police set up metal detectors and barricades to lure well-wishers into the square. Police estimated that around 100,000 would attend, Italian media reported; this was higher than the original estimate of 60,000.
Pope Francis presided over the funeral, an event that drew heads of state and royalty despite Benedict’s demands for simplicity and the Vatican’s efforts to keep the first burial for a retired pope simple in modern times. Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella in attendance.
Other heads of state and government decided to accept the Vatican’s offer and come “in their special capacity”.
Benedict’s coffin was removed from the basilica and placed in front of the altar as believers read the rosary. The ritual itself was modeled after the code used for dead popes, but with some modifications, Benedict was not a reigning pope when he died.
Benedict after Mass The cypress coffin was to be placed in a zinc coffin.then an outer oak coffin was once preserved in St. Before he was buried in the crypt in the caves below the basilica, where the tomb of John Paul II is located.
During the three-day public demonstration at St. Peter’s Basilica, nearly 200,000 people paid tribute to Benedict, and one of the last was with Reverend Rosario Vitale, who spent an hour praying next to his body. He said Benedict granted him a special exemption to begin the process of becoming a priest, which was necessary due to a physical disability.
“So I came here today to pray over his tomb, his body, and say ‘thank you’ for my future priesthood and service,” he said. “I owe him a lot and being able to pray for an hour in his coffin was truly a gift to me.”
The former Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 31 at the age of 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and has spent his life upholding church doctrine. But he will go down in history with a singular, revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: He retired as the first pope to do so in six centuries.
When Francis believed Benedict no longer had the strength to lead the church, he praised his courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” for other popes to do the same. Francis said he had recently left written instructions outlining the conditions under which he would resign if he was incapacitated.
Benedict never intended for his retirement to last this long—about 10 years, longer than his eight-year will. And the unprecedented situation of a retired pope living alongside a reigning pope has led to calls for protocol to guide future honorary popes to avoid any confusion about who is actually responsible.
During John Paul II’s quarter-century as pope, former Joseph Ratzinger, as governor of the Doctrine of Faith for Congregation, led the crackdown on dissent, taking action against the left-leaning liberation theology that had spread throughout Latin America in the 1970s. and against dissident theologians and nuns who do not follow the Vatican’s hard line on issues such as sexual morality.
His legacy was marred by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, although he realized the “scum” of the priests who raped children earlier than most and laid the groundwork for the Pope to punish them.
As cardinal and pope, he passed a comprehensive canon law that resulted in the dismissal of 848 priests between 2004 and 2014, his will with roughly one year at each end. But abuse survivors still blamed him for the crisis, as he did not sanction any bishop who moved the abusers, and described him as the embodiment of the clergy system that long protected the institution against victims.