Pope Francis presides over the funeral of his predecessor Benedict XVI

Tens of thousands of people are expected Thursday morning in Saint Peter’s Square for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI presided over by his successor Francis, a first in the recent history of the Church.

The ceremony – “solemn but sober” according to the Vatican – should begin at 9:30 a.m. (08:30 GMT), in the presence of many heads of state and government, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

From Monday to Wednesday, 195,000 faithful came to Saint Peter’s Basilica to pray before the remains of the German theologian, who died on Saturday at the age of 95 and whose renunciation in 2013 surprised the whole world. The prefecture of Rome expects an attendance of 100,000 people for the funeral.

Joseph Ratzinger will then be buried, in private, in the crypt of the basilica where John Paul II rested until 2011, alongside 90 other popes.

Faithful wait to pay their last respects to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica on January 2, 2023 (AFP – Andreas SOLARO)

Only two delegations, Germany and Italy, have been officially invited by the Holy See, but many political leaders, religious dignitaries and crowned heads from all over the world have confirmed their presence.

Among them, the King of the Belgians Philippe, the Italian, Polish and Togolese presidents, the former Queen Sophie of Spain or even the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin.

– Medals and coins –

View of Saint Peter's Basilica on January 4, 2023 at the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (AFP - Andreas SOLARO)
View of Saint Peter’s Basilica on January 4, 2023 at the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (AFP – Andreas SOLARO)

Benedict XVI’s coffin will be transferred at 8:50 a.m. (0750 GMT) from the basilica to St. Peter’s Square, where the rosary prayer will be recited. This will be followed by a mass of about two hours of Latin rite, in several languages, concelebrated by more than 4,000 cardinals, bishops and priests.

Joseph Ratzinger having renounced his ministry before his death, his funeral will follow the liturgy reserved for the funerals of the popes, “with some differences”, explained the spokesperson for the Holy See, Matteo Bruni.

In accordance with tradition, the cypress coffin in which Benedict XVI will rest will contain coins and medals minted during his pontificate, his pallium (liturgical garment) as well as a text briefly describing his pontificate, placed in a metal cylinder.

More than a thousand journalists from 30 countries have been accredited for the event and 1,000 police officers have been mobilized, as well as numerous Italian civil protection volunteers.

Such an event is a first in the recent history of the Catholic Church. In 1802, Pius VII had celebrated the funeral of Pius VI, who had died in exile in France three years earlier, but the latter had not renounced his office.

– “Humility” –

In Germany, the episcopal conference has invited the country’s churches to ring their bells at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. GMT) in tribute to the Bavarian intellectual. Italy for its part lowered flags on public buildings, while Portugal declared a day of national mourning.

“For me he was a father, in the faith and also a model of dedication and humility,” Marco Felini, wine producer, told AFP on Wednesday, who came to meditate before the remains of the pope emeritus.

Benedict XVI (AFP - Emmanuelle MICHEL)
Benedict XVI (AFP – Emmanuelle MICHEL)

The death of Benedict XVI puts an end to ten years of cohabitation between two men in white in the Vatican, unheard of in the two thousand year history of the Church.

Brilliant professor of theology, Joseph Ratzinger, a reserved intellectual not at ease with the media and crowds, was for a quarter of a century the strict guardian of the dogma of the Church in Rome at the head of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith before being elected pope in 2005.

His pontificate was marked by multiple crises, such as the Vatileaks scandal in 2012, which exposed a vast network of corruption in the Vatican.

He had been implicated in early 2022 by a report in Germany on his handling of sexual violence when he was Archbishop of Munich. He then came out of his silence to ask for “pardon” but assured that he had never covered up a child criminal.

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