VATICAN CITY (January 2) (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people came to St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday to pay their respects to former Pope Benedict XVI, whose body lay in a state without any papal paraphernalia before his funeral. this week.
Benedict, a champion of conservative Catholics who longed to return to a more traditional church, died Saturday at the age of 95 in the secluded Vatican convent where he had lived since 2013, when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign.
“I feel like he was our grandfather,” Veronica Segal, 16, a Catholic high school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is in Rome for a religious study program, told Reuters in St. Peter’s Square. .
She said she read one of Benedict’s books on Jesus at one of her courses.
“I know he’s in a better place because he was a holy man and he drove so well,” said classmate Molly Foley, 16, of Atlanta, Georgia. A third girl in the group wears the American flag on her back.
Security was tight, with visitors going through several checkpoints before entering the church. Many stopped praying after viewing the body or stayed to attend Mass in the side chapels.
Vatican police said 65,000 people crossed the border on the first day.
Benedict’s body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments, and placed on a simple platform, was carried in procession just before dawn through the Vatican Gardens from the cloister to a place in front of the main altar of Christendom’s largest church.
Two Swiss Guards stood on either side of the body, which bore no papal insignia or regalia, such as a silver staff with a cross, or a pallium, a strip of cloth worn around the neck by diocesan bishops.
Both were on the body of Pope John Paul when he was in power in 2005.
It is not clear if the Pastoral Cross or any other items used by him will be buried with him, but it appears that the decision not to have them during a public viewing was made to emphasize that he was no longer pope at his death.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Benedict will be buried according to his wishes in the same place in the crypts under St. Peter’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II was originally buried in 2005 before his body was moved to the cathedral’s chapel in 2011.
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Before the church was opened to the public, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were the first to pay their respects to the church.
Benedict’s closest aide, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, is seated in the first panel on the side of the body with Benedict’s family and medics who cared for him in his last days.
After a few hours they rose to pray before the body. Janswein stayed behind to receive condolences from the visitors.
“I should have come,” Sri, a woman visiting Jakarta, Indonesia, told Reuters. “It was the Pope and I am Catholic,” she said, but declined to give her last name.
Benedict will remain in state until Wednesday evening. His funeral will be held on Thursday in Saint Peter’s Square and will be presided over by Pope Francis. The Vatican said it would be a simple, solemn and sober ceremony in line with Pope Benedict’s wishes.
The Vatican has painstakingly done an elaborate ritual for what happens after the death of the reigning pope but nothing for the previous pope, so what happens in the next few days can become a model for past popes to come.
Bruni said that the details of the mourning mass were not finalized yet.
While the number of visitors was large, there were no signs of the huge crowds that came to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II, when millions waited hours to enter the church.
(Reporting by Philip Bolella), Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick McPhee
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