Thousands flock to the Vatican to bid farewell to Benedict XVI

The body of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, his head resting on a pair of red pillows, lay in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday, as thousands lined up to see off the pontiff who rocked the world with his decision to retire a month ago. decade.

On the eve of the first three days of the wake, Italian security officials said at least 25,000 to 30,000 people could arrive Monday. But by the end of the first day, some 65,000 people had filed past the coffin, the Vatican said.

At dawn, 10 white-gloved pontifical knights—lay attendants to the pontiffs and pontifical households—carried the body on a cloth-covered wooden stretcher after its arrival at the basilica to its resting place in front of the main altar, under the imposing Bernini’s bronze canopy.

A Swiss guard waved as the body entered through a side door after the remains of Benedict XVI, placed in a van, were transferred from the chapel of the monastery compound where he died on Saturday morning at the age of 95.

His secretary for many years, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and a handful of consecrated lay women who served in the household of Benedict XVI, followed the van on foot for a few hundred meters in a silent procession toward the basilica. Some of the women reached out a hand to respectfully touch the body.

Before the faithful on foot were allowed to enter the basilica, prayers were recited and the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled holy water on the body, and a small cloud of incense was released near the coffin. . Benedict XVI had his hands clasped and a rosary between his fingers.

Shortly after 9 am (0800 GMT), the doors of the basilica opened for the public, some of whom had waited for hours in the pre-dawn mist, to pay their respects to the late pontiff, who retired from the papacy in 2013, the first to do so in 600 years.

Faithful and curious, the public briskly walked up the central aisle to pass the coffin with its cloths after waiting in a line that meandered around St. Peter’s Square at midmorning.

Benedict XVI’s body was dressed in a miter, a bishop’s headdress, and a red cloak.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, arrived from Venice on an overnight train to accompany the body.

“I wanted to pay tribute to Benedict because he played a key role in my life and in my education. I got here around 7:30, after leaving Venice last night,” Tuccio said.

“When I was young I participated in the International Youth Days,” he said, referring to the periodic gatherings of young parishioners attended by pontiffs. Tuccio added that he studied theology and “his pontificate of him accompanied me during my university years.”

“He was very important to me: because of who I am, because of my way of thinking, my values,” Tuccio continued.

Among those who attended the basilica for the wake were Cardinal Walter Kasper who, like Benedict, is a German theologian. Kasper was head of the Vatican’s office of Christian unity during the Benedict papacy.

Benedict left an “important mark” on theology and spirituality, but also on the history of the papacy with his courage to step down, Kasper told The Associated Press.

“His resignation was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, a greatness because he saw that he was no longer up for the challenges of being pope,” Kasper said.

Kasper, who was one of the cardinals who elected Benedict XVI to the papacy in 2005, added that the resignation gave “a more human vision to the papacy: that the pope is a man and depends on his physical and mental strengths.”

Public access lasted 10 hours on Monday at St. Peter’s Basilica. For Tuesday and Wednesday 12 hours were scheduled; and Thursday morning will be the funeral, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square.

As Benedict XVI wished, the funeral will be marked by simplicity, the Vatican said when announcing the death on Saturday.

On Monday, workers set up an altar in the square for the funeral mass. Rows of chairs were also placed for the faithful who wanted to attend. Officials say they anticipate about 60,000 people in attendance at the mass.

On the same Monday, the Vatican confirmed the widely reported burial plans. In accordance with his wishes, Benedict’s tomb will be placed in the grotto crypt under the basilica that was last used by Saint John Paul II, before the saint’s body was moved upstairs to the main basilica prior to his beatification in 2011, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.


Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.

Thousands flock to the Vatican to bid farewell to Benedict XVI