Rome and London – Pope Francis on Thursday paid tribute to his friend and retired predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, by presiding over his funeral mass in the Vatican, in an unprecedented event in the modern Catholic Church.
Benedict, who Die He stunned the congregation on Saturday at the age of 95 when he became the first pope to resign in more than 600 years. His funeral marked the first time that a supreme pope presided over the funeral of a previous pope in modern times, according to church scholars.
Thousands gathered in Saint Peter’s Square Thursday morning. The funeral procession began before the late-dawn mist burned the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, where Benedict had lied in his condition. Mass began at 9:30 a.m. local time, moments after Benedict’s coffin was taken to the square. Francis arrived in a wheelchair.
Francis opened his sermon with Jesus’ last words spoken on the cross, saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Francis spoke in Italian of the spirit of life that “quietly inspires us,” adding that the spirit “desires to mold the heart of every pastor, so that it may be brought into conformity with the heart of Christ Jesus.”
“Like a master,” he said, “the shepherd bears the burden of intercession and the pressure of the anointing of his people, especially in situations where good must fight to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened.”
He also spoke of friendship, likening it to a supportive force amidst the “shipwreck of the present life,” as St. Gregory the Great wrote in “Pastoral Rule,” a guide for leaders.
Francis concluded his eulogy with, “O Benedict, faithful friend of the bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice now and forever!”
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters on Wednesday that the ceremony was to be “almost similar” to that of the squid, who died while still leading the church.
“The missing elements are the most relevant to the reigning pope,” said Bruni, “such as the last calls, the invocations of the Archdiocese of Rome and the Eastern Churches very particular to the seated pope.”
Heads of state and Catholic dignitaries attended, although the church offered official invitations only to Italian and German dignitaries. The Vatican has advised foreign embassies that any other leaders who wish to attend may do so, but only in their “personal capacity”.
The United States was represented by Joseph Donnelly, US Ambassador to the Holy See, in his office He said Thursday. Officials said the ambassador represented the United States, in keeping with “the wishes of both the Vatican and the Pope Emeritus for a simple and solemn funeral.”
Benedict, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, was elevated to pope when he was 78 in 2005. He retired eight years later, citing failing health.
Thousands of worshipers have flocked over the past few days to St. Peter’s Basilica, where the retired pope was reclining in his red robes. Members of the Swiss Guard surrounded Benedict, standing outside the red velvet ropes surrounding his remains.
A steady stream of mourners poured into the church. Many lined up for hours to pay their last respects. More than 65,000 people were said to have filed into the basilica on Monday alone, with similar crowds on subsequent days.
Vatican officials confirmed that the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica had not rung since Saturday, the day Benedict died. The death toll is usually determined by the seated death of the pope.
Benedict’s remains were placed on Wednesday in a triple coffin – surrounded by cypress, zinc and wood – and transported on Thursday at about 8:50 a.m. to St. Peter’s Square, where the funeral was to take place.
During mass, Francis sat and watched as the cardinal anointed and blessed the coffin. Moments earlier, Francis said in Latin, “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles and Salus Populi Romani, intercede before the Eternal Father, so that he may reveal the face of Jesus his Son to Pope Emeritus Benedict and console the Church on its pilgrimage throughout history as it awaits the return of the Lord.”
In the days before and after Benedict’s death, Francis asked the followers of the Church to pray for him. The popes were reportedly friendly after Benedict’s resignation.
An official at the Vatican press office told reporters on Sunday that Francis was the “first” to arrive on Saturday at the Mater Ecclesia monastery, where Benedict lived within the walls of the Vatican, after receiving the news of Benedict’s death. After that, Bruni said, the pope stayed at the monastery to pray.
Francis on New Year’s Day the followers asked To invoke “The Intercession of Mary Most Holy to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI”.
The Pope added: “Let us all unite, with one heart and one soul, to give thanks to God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and the Church.”
Vatican officials said Benedict’s remains were due to be buried immediately after Thursday’s funeral.
In addition, the sarcophagus will also contain a “Rogetto,” a written text describing the papacy placed in a metal cylinder inside the sarcophagus, Bruni said. On Thursday, the Vatican released a copy of the text, which is biographical. A sketch of a few hundred words written in Italian describes Benedict’s parents. and his childhood in Germany and his rise to the top of the church and his resignation.
Under the text reads: “CORPUS BENEDICTI XVI PM”.
As white-gloved pallbearers picked up the coffin to bring it back to the church, Francis got off the platform with the help of a cane. He blessed the coffin, laid his free hand on it, bent down and closed his eyes for a minute of contemplation.
He stood for a moment until I got him his wheelchair.
Benedict was buried in St. Peter’s Crypt, where more than 90 popes have found their final resting place.
ABC News’ Clark Benson contributed to this report.
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