VATICAN — To the ringing of bells, thousands of worshipers, political leaders and the Pope himself mourned Benedict XVI, the German theologian who made history with his resignation, at a rare requiem mass for a dead pontiff led by a living pontiff on Thursday.
The crowd applauded as bearers of the Benedictine cypress carried the fog-shrouded St. Peter’s Basilica and placed it in front of the altar in the vast square. Pope Francis, dressed in the crimson robes characteristic of papal funerals, began the service with a prayer and concluded it an hour later with a solemn blessing of a simple coffin decorated only with the former coat of arms of the Pope.
Heads of state and royals, clergy from around the world and thousands of ordinary people gathered for the ceremony, despite Benedict’s pleas for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral for a pope emeritus in modern times low-key.
Many in attendance came from Benedict’s native Bavaria and wore traditional clothing, including boiled wool coats to ward off the morning chill.
“We came to worship Benedict and wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Meinar, who traveled from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good pope.”
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Ignoring calls for decorum at the end, some in the crowd held banners or shouted “Santo Subito!” – “Holiness now!” – repeating the spontaneous chants that were heard during the funeral of Saint John Paul II in 2005.
The former Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 31 at the age of 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and a lifelong defender of church doctrine. But he will go down in history for a singularly revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: he retired, the first pope in six centuries to do so.
Francis praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” for other popes to do the same.
The Vatican said about 50,000 people attended the Mass after about 200,000 paid their respects during three days of public viewing.
Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other leaders accepted the Vatican’s offer and arrived in a “personal capacity”. They included several heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives. In addition, the 125 cardinals were joined by many patriarchs on the seats at the side of the altar, and the Russian Orthodox Church sent its foreign representative.
Among those present was Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who received special permission from the court to attend the funeral. Deng was detained in May on suspicion of conspiring with foreign powers under China’s national security law after he clashed with authorities over his involvement in the now-silenced pro-democracy movement. His passport was canceled when he was detained.
Benedict’s close confidants were also in attendance, and the former pope’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Genswein, bent down and kissed the book of the Gospels, which was opened on the coffin before the ceremony began.
Matteo Colonna, a 20-year-old seminarian from Teramo, Italy, said he came in part because of the historic nature of the funeral, but also because it had a personal resonance for him.
“The first spark of my vocation was born during the pontificate of Benedict, but then it became even stronger under Pope Francis,” said Colonna, sitting at dawn in prayer in the square of St. “I see a continuity between these two Popes and the fact that today Francis celebrates the funeral in memory of Benedict is a historic event.”
Early Thursday, the Vatican released the official life history of Benedict, a short document in Latin that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with coins and medallions minted during his papacy and stoles.
The document made much of Benedict’s historic resignation and referred to him as “pope emeritus,” quoting verbatim the words in Latin he spoke on Feb. 11, 2013, when he announced his retirement.
The document, known as the “rogito” or “deed,” also mentions his theological and papal heritage, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat sexual abuse by clergy, “constantly calling the church to conversion, prayer, repentance and purification.”
Francis did not mention Benedict’s specific legacy in his homily and only mentioned his name once, in the last line, reflecting instead on Jesus’ willingness to entrust himself to the will of God.
“Firmly holding on to the last words of the Lord and the testimony of His whole life, we also, as a church community, want to follow in His footsteps and give our brother into the hands of the Father,” said Francis at the end.
During John Paul II’s quarter century as pope, Ratzinger led a crackdown on dissent as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cracking down on left-wing liberation theology that spread in Latin America in the 1970s and dissenting theologians and nuns who did not of the Vatican’s hard line on matters such as sexual morality.
His legacy was marred by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, although he was earlier than others to recognize the “dirtiness” of priests who molested children and effectively laid the groundwork for the Holy See to punish them.
As a cardinal and pope, he enacted sweeping church legislation that saw 848 priests excommunicated between 2004 and 2014, roughly a year on either end of his pontificate. But survivors of the abuse still held him responsible for the crisis, for not sanctioning any bishops who moved abusers, refusing to report sex crimes to the police and recognizing him as the epitome of a clerical system that had long protected the institution from abuse. victims.
A group representing survivors of abuse by German clergy urged German officials who attended Benedict’s funeral to demand more action from the Vatican to combat sexual abuse. Eckiger Tisch asked German leaders to demand that Francis issue a “universal church law” with zero tolerance for clerical abuse.
“Any celebrations that celebrate the lives of those who facilitate abuse like Benedict must be stopped,” added SNAP, the main group for survivors of abuse in the US.
The funeral rite itself is modeled after the codex used for deceased popes, but with some changes given that Benedict was not the reigning pontiff when he died.
After the Mass, Benedict’s cypress coffin was placed in a zinc, then an outer oak coffin, before being buried in a crypt in the grottoes beneath St Peter’s, which once contained the tomb of St John Paul II, before being moved upstairs. .
Although Thursday’s Mass was unusual, it has some precedent: in 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in St. Peter’s Basilica of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon .
Associated Press reporter Tricia Thomas contributed.
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Thousands mourn Benedict XVI at Pope Francis’ funeral in St Peter’s
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