VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis honored his predecessor Benedict XVI, the German theologian who made history in retirement, by presiding over a rare requiem Mass for a slain pontiff by a living one Thursday before thousands of mourners in St. Peter’s Square.
The bells tolled and the faithful applauded as the pallbearers carried the cypress coffin of Benedict XVI from the mist-shrouded basilica and placed it before the altar. Benedict XVI’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, leaned over and kissed a book of the Gospels that lay open on the coffin.
Francis, wearing the crimson vestments typical of papal funerals, took his place and opened the Mass with a prayer,
Heads of state and clergy from around the world and thousands of ordinary people attended the ceremony, despite calls for simplicity and official efforts by Benedict XVI to keep the first funeral of a pope emeritus in modern times low-key.
THIS WAS THE LAST GOODBYE TO BENEDICT XVI
Many came from Benedict’s homeland and wore traditional clothing, including coats of boiled wool to protect them from the morning chill.
“We came to pay tribute to Benedict and we wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Mainar, who traveled from a small town east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good Pope.”
The former Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 31 at age 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and spent his life defending the doctrine of the church. But he will go down in history for a singular and 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 in stepping aside, saying he “opened the door” for other popes who did the same. The reigning pontiff, for his part, said recently that he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions under which he too would resign.
After some 200,000 people paid their respects during a three-day public wake, authorities estimated that about 100,000 would attend Benedict’s funeral, though it was unclear if many turned out in the end.
DELEGATIONS AND LEADERS WHO WERE PRESENT AT THE FUNERAL
Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other leaders accepted the Vatican’s offer and came in their “private capacity.” They included several heads of state, at least four prime ministers, and two delegations of royal representatives. In addition, a host of patriarchs joined 125 cardinals in seats at the side of the altar.
Among them was Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was given special permission by the court to attend the funeral and arrived in Rome on Thursday. Zen was detained in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under a national security law China enacted after he clashed with authorities over his involvement in a now-silenced democracy movement. His passport was revoked when he was arrested.
Matteo Colonna, a 20-year-old seminarian from Teramo, Italy, said he came partly because of the historic nature of the funeral, but also because it had a personal resonance for him.
“The first spark of my vocation started under the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but then it got even stronger under Pope Francis,” Colonna said, as he prayed in St. Peter’s Square before the funeral. “I see a continuity between these two popes and the fact that today Francis is celebrating the funeral in memory of Benedict XVI is a historic event.”
ROGITO, THE LATIN DOCUMENT THAT WAS PLACED IN HIS COFFIN
Early Thursday, the Vatican released the official history of Benedict XVI’s life, a short Latin document that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with coins and medallions minted during his papacy and their canopy stoles.
The document paid close attention to the historic resignation of Benedict XVI and referred to him as “pope emeritus”, quoting the Latin words he uttered on February 11, 2013, when he announced that he would retire.
The document, known as a “rogito” or scripture, also cites his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat clergy sexual abuse “by continually calling the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification”.
Only in the first hours of the funeral chapel was the record of 65,000 faithful expected for the four days broken.
Francis did not dwell on the specific legacy of Benedict XVI in his homily and only spoke his name once, in the final line, instead delivering a meditation on Jesus’ willingness to entrust himself to God’s will.
“Clinging to the last words of the Lord and the witness of his whole life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his footsteps and entrust our brother into the hands of the Father,” Francis said at the end.
During Saint 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 the left-leaning liberation theology that spread across Latin America in the 1970s and against dissent. theologians and nuns who did not take the Vatican’s hard line on issues such as sexual morality.
His legacy was marred by the clergy sex abuse scandal, even though he acknowledged earlier than most the “filth” of priests who raped children, and indeed set the stage for the Holy See to punish them.
He shocked the entire world when he announced that he was leaving the pontificate in February 2013.
As cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping church legislation that resulted in the expulsion of 848 priests between 2004 and 2014, roughly his pontificate with a year on each end. But abuse survivors still held him responsible for the crisis, for failing to sanction any bishops who moved abusers and identifying him as the personification of the clerical establishment that had long protected the institution from victims.
A group representing survivors of German clergy abuse has called on German officials who attended Benedict XVI’s funeral to demand more action from the Vatican on sexual abuse. Eckiger Tisch called on German leaders to demand that Francis issue a “universal church law” stipulating zero tolerance in the treatment of clergy abuse.
“Any celebration that marks the lives of abuse enablers like Benedict must end,” the top US official said. SNAP abuse survivors group.
The funeral ritual itself is based on the code used for dead popes, but with some modifications since Benedict was not a reigning pontiff when he died.
After the mass, Benedict’s cypress coffin will be placed inside a zinc one, then an oak outer coffin before being buried in the crypt in the grottoes below St. Peter’s Basilica that once housed the tomb of Saint John Paul II before it was moved upstairs. .
While the ritual is unusual, 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.
Benedict never intended his retirement to last this long: almost 10 years was longer than his eight-year pontificate. And the unprecedented situation of a retired pope living next to a reigning one prompted calls for protocols to guide future popes emeritus to avoid any confusion over who is really in charge.