Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral: Pope Francis conducts his predecessor’s funeral, first in modern times

Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral: Pope Francis conducts his predecessor’s funeral, first in modern times

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Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor former Pope Benedict XVI Thursday at a funeral attended by tens of thousands of mourners in St. Peter’s Square.

The event marks the first occasion in modern times to be presided over by a pontiff the funeral of his predecessor – and the first in history to resign. Benedict, the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign rather than serve for life, died at age 95 on Dec. 31 in a Vatican monastery.

It was an occasion characterized by simplicity, as the former Pope wished. “It’s hard to have a simple service in St. Peter’s Square, but I think it was,” Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, writer and editor, told CNN’s Max Foster and Bianca Nobillo on CNN’s Newsroom.

“You have to have a bit of pomp and ceremony for a former pope, but I think within the guidelines of what Pope Emeritus Benedict wanted, he succeeded very well.”

About 50,000 people attended the funeral in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, with many members of the crowd calling for the late pope to be canonized.

The attendance compares with an estimated 1.1 million people at the funeral of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II. There were 500,000 people in and around St. Peter’s Square in 2005, and another 600,000 watching on video screens in other parts of Rome.

John Paul II’s funeral was the largest gathering of heads of state outside the United Nations. Delegations included nine monarchs as well as 70 presidents and prime ministers.

In the six days between John Paul II’s death and his funeral, some 3 million people came to pay their last respects. Every hour, 21,000 people passed through St. Peter’s Basilica. The average wait to see the Pope was 13 hours, and at peak the line was 3 miles long.

Dignitaries and religious leaders lined the square on Thursday, which can hold an estimated 60,000 people, for the ceremony. Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala was among those in attendance, according to CNN affiliate CNN Prima.

The ceremony was similar to that of a reigning pope, but with some modifications. Benedict was named pope emeritus at the funeral and the language of some prayers was different because he was not the reigning pope when he died.

Francis began leading Mass Thursday morning, during which he gave a homily around 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET). Members of the crowd later partook in communion.

Benedict’s coffin was transported through the basilica and transferred to the Vatican crypt for burial in the first tomb of John Paul II. The tomb was vacated after John Paul II’s body and remains were moved to a chapel in the basilica after he was canonized.

As Benedict’s coffin was carried to St. Peter’s Basilica, many members of the crowd could be heard chanting “Santo Subito,” a call for the pope emeritus to become a saint immediately.

“God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompany and entrust their lives to the one who was their shepherd,” Francis said as he delivered the homily.

“Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope to show him once more the love that is eternal.” We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and dedication that he has bestowed upon us over the years. Together we want to say: “Father, into your hands we commit his spirit.”

“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be full when you hear his voice now and forever,” Francis added.

Members of the faithful are present, including Georg Ganswein (second from right), Archbishop of the Curia and the late Benedict's longtime personal secretary.

During the funeral, during the ritual, a ribbon was placed around the coffin with the seals of the apostolic chamber, the papal house and the liturgical celebrations. The cypress coffin was placed in a zinc coffin that was soldered and sealed, and subsequently placed in a wooden coffin that was buried, according to Bruni.

The ceremony is expected to end around 11:15 a.m. local time (5:15 a.m. ET).

Dignitaries including Spain’s Queen Sofia and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will attend the funeral, along with US Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly.

Benedict's coffin was carried through St. Peter's Square.
The cardinals paid tribute to the former pope.

Benedict was elected pope in April 2005 after the death of John Paul II. He is known to be more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who took steps to soften the Vatican’s stance on abortion and homosexuality, as well as doing more to address the sexual-abuse crisis that has engulfed the church in recent years and clouded Benedict’s legacy.

The scroll placed in the coffin of Pope Benedict XVI, which is a biography of his life and mentions some of the most important moments of his mandate, is a reminder that he “toughly” fought against pedophilia.

“He firmly fought against crimes committed by members of the clergy against minors or vulnerable persons, constantly calling the Church to conversion, prayer, repentance and purification,” the scroll said.

His death prompted tributes from political and religious leaders including US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Dalai Lama.

Around 200,000 mourners, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella, paid their respects to the former pontiff earlier this week during his eulogy at St Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict’s public viewing ended on Wednesday, before an intimate religious ceremony in which items including coins and medals minted during his tenure and a scroll for the pontificate were placed in his sealed cypress coffin before burial.

Meloni paid tribute to “enlightened theologian” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in a tweet on Thursday.

“Today in St. Peter’s to say goodbye to Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. An enlightened theologian who leaves us a spiritual and intellectual legacy of faith, trust and hope,” Meloni tweeted after the funeral he attended.

“We are tasked to always preserve and honor him and carry on his precious teachings,” she added.

The Italian government announced earlier on Wednesday that Italian and European flags would fly at half-mast on public buildings in Italy on Thursday.

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