Mourners have started pouring into St Peter’s Square from the early hours for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI today.
Devotees started to gather at 3am GMT, five and a half hours before the service for the German theologian who made history by retiring, in a rare requiem Mass for a dead pope presided over by a living one – Pope Francis.
Thick fog enshrouded the Vatican before dawn as civil protection crews and police manned metal detectors and barricades to herd well-wishers into the square, after 200,000 saw him lying in state.
Police estimated some 100,000 would attend today for the ‘sober and sombre’ ceremony, higher than an original estimate of 60,000, Italian media reported, citing police security plans, with 1,000 Italian security personnel on hand.
A woman waves Bavarian flags as a tribute to Pope Benedict XVI as the faithful gather at St. Peter’s Square on the day of his funeral
Cardinals dressed in their traditional robes start to take their seats ahead of the ceremony today which will be attended by thousands
Thousands of devotees are expected at the ceremony at the Catholic headquarters including nuns and clergy from all over the world
Priests prepare the Eucharist in front of the iconic facade of St Peter’s Basilica as Catholics from around the world descend on the Vatican
A general view of Saint Peter’s Square taken from the terrace of Saint Peter’s Basilica prior to the funeral ceremony
Clergy members in white robes gather in the centuries-old square to witness a rare funeral for a pope presided over by a living one
Among those were Germans in traditional Bavarian outfits carrying flags and standards of the area of Germany where Benedict was born.
Air space around the tiny Holy See has been closed off for the day and Italy has ordered that flags around the country be flown at half staff.
Pope Francis is due to preside over the funeral, an event drawing heads of state and royalty despite Benedict’s requests for simplicity and Vatican efforts to keep the first funeral for an emeritus pope in modern times low-key.
Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed their participation.
But other heads of state and government decided to take the Vatican up on its offer and come in their ‘private capacity’.
Among those in attendance will be members of Europe’s royal families, including King Philippe of Belgium and Queen Sofia of Spain.
They included several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives.
But it is a far cry from the last papal funeral in 2005, when dozens of kings, presidents and prime ministers joined more than a million people who flooded the streets around the Vatican to pay their respects to Benedict’s charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.
A woman holds a cross as she waits the funeral mass for late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in St. Peter’s Square
The German Pope had been lying in state at St Peter’s Basilica where thousands came to view the former leader of the Catholic Church
Police estimated some 100,000 would attend, higher than an original estimate of 60,000, Italian media reported, citing police security plans
Faithful in Bavarian attire walk at St. Peter’s Square on the day of the funeral of former Pope Benedict at the Vatican
A nun reads a copy of L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City State, which today pays tribute to Benedict
Some began arriving in the Vatican area as early as 4am, five and half hours before the funeral presided over by his successor, Pope Francis, was due to begin in St. Peter’s Square
Among those were Germans in traditional Bavarian outfits carrying flags and standards of the area of Germany where Benedict was born
The funeral rite calls for Benedict’s coffin to be carried out from the basilica and placed before the altar as the faithful recite the rosary.
The ritual itself is modelled on the code used for dead popes but with some modifications given Benedict was not a reigning pope when he died.
The three-page account of his life and papacy, written in Latin, says he ‘fought with firmness’ against sexual abuse by clergy in the Church.
After the Mass, Benedict’s cypress coffin is to be placed inside a zinc one, then an outer oak casket before being entombed in the crypt in the grottos underneath the basilica that once held the tomb of St John Paul II before it was moved upstairs into the main basilica.
In his coffin will also be a written account of his historic papacy known as a rogito, the coins minted during his pontificate and his pallium stoles, the religious garment worn over the pope’s robes.
Two key prayers, from the diocese of Rome and the Eastern rite churches, that were recited during John Paul’s funeral, for example, will be omitted because Benedict wasn’t pope when he died and because both branches of the Catholic Church still have a reigning pope as their leader: Francis.
The readings also differ from those chosen for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, focusing on ‘the sure hope and the promise’ of eternal life in heaven.
Some 200,000 paid tribute to Benedict during three days of public viewing in St Peter’s Basilica, with one of the last ones Friar Rosario Vitale, who spent an hour praying by his body.
He said Benedict had given him a special dispensation to begin the process of becoming a priest, which was required because of a physical disability.
‘So today I came here to pray on his tomb, on his body and to say ‘thank you’ for my future priesthood, for my ministry,’ he said. ‘I owe him a lot and this for me was really a gift to be able to pray for an hour on his bier.’
The former Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 31 at age 95, is considered one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians and spent his lifetime upholding church doctrine.
But he will go down in history for a singular, revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: He retired, the first pope in six centuries to do so.
Francis has praised Benedict’s courage in stepping aside when he believed he no longer had the strength to lead the church, saying it ‘opened the door’ to other popes doing the same.
Francis, for his part, recently said he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions in which he too would resign if he were to become incapacitated.
Thousands of people began arriving in the dark of the night on Thursday to attend the funeral of former Pope Benedict, a hero to Roman Catholic conservatives who shocked the world by resigning nearly a decade ago
Benedict died at 95 last Saturday in a monastery within the Vatican gardens where he moved after becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to stand down, opening the way for the election of Pope Francis, who has proved a more reformist, hands-on leader
Over the past three days almost 200,000 people have filed past Benedict’s body dressed in a mitre and red vestments, his hands wrapped in a rosary, which was placed on a bier in St. Peter’s Basilica without any papal regalia
A faithful carries the flag of Germany at St. Peter’s Square on the day of the funeral of former Pope Benedict at the Vatican
Benedict died at 95 on Dec. 31 in the monastery on the Vatican grounds where he had spent nearly all of his decade in retirement
Even though he largely avoided public appearances in subsequent years, he remained a standard-bearer for Catholic conservatives, who felt alienated by reforms ushered in by Francis, including cracking down on the old Latin Mass
Benedict never intended his retirement to last as long as it did – at nearly 10 years it was longer than his eight-year pontificate.
And the unprecedented situation of a retired pope living alongside a reigning one prompted calls for protocols to guide future popes emeritus to prevent any confusion about who is really in charge.
During St John Paul II’s quarter-century as pope, the former Joseph Ratzinger spearheaded a crackdown on dissent as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, taking action against the left-leaning liberation theology that spread in Latin America in the 1970s and against dissenting theologians and nuns who did not toe the Vatican’s hard line on matters like sexual morals.
His legacy was marred by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, even though he recognised earlier than most the ‘filth’ of priests who raped children, and actually laid the groundwork for the Holy See to punish them.
As cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping church legislation that resulted in 848 priests being defrocked from 2004-2014, roughly his pontificate with a year on either end.
But abuse survivors still held him responsible for the crisis, for failing to sanction any bishop who moved abusers around and identifying him as embodying the clerical system that long protected the institution over victims.
‘Any celebration that marks the life of abuse enablers like Benedict must end,’ said the main US survivor group SNAP.
While his funeral is novel, it does have some precedent: In 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in St Peter’s of his predecessor, Pius VI, who had died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon.
An intellectual theologian, Benedict was always likely to rule in the shadow of John Paul, who was credited with helping end the Cold War. But his time in charge was to a degree spent trying to overcome problems the Church had ignored or covered up in previous decades, including rampant sexual abuses by clerics.
Benedict himself acknowledged he was a weak administrator, and after eight years in the job he stunned the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in 2013 by resigning, saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church due to his ‘advanced age’.
Even though he largely avoided public appearances in subsequent years, he remained a standard-bearer for Catholic conservatives, who felt alienated by reforms ushered in by Francis, including cracking down on the old Latin Mass.
Over the past three days almost 200,000 people have filed past Benedict’s body dressed in a mitre and red vestments, his hands wrapped in a rosary, which was placed on a bier in St. Peter’s Basilica without any papal regalia.
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