Nearly 50,000 people paid their last respects to Pope Benedict XVI Thursday morning at the Vatican. For many of them, it was an opportunity to honor a pope who had made a difference in their lives.
“We met for the very first time just two hours ago,” said Camilla de Catuélan, looking at her cousin next to her. She lives in Paris, her cousin in Austria, but they had never seen each other in person. It was not until the funeral of Benedict XVI that the meeting took place in the heart of the Vatican.
“This meeting was organized by Benedict XVI,” said Katharina Wilczek smiling. It was not planned, it’s fantastic, it will remain as a defining moment in our relationship. The two cousins arrived very early Thursday morning, well before dawn, to be sure of having a seat and as close as possible to Saint Peter’s Basilica.
We wanted to take part in this historic moment. Benedict XVI was an important, intelligent man, faithful to the Church.
For the very first time, a sitting pope celebrated another pope. “This funeral is very moving, it’s something that had never happened in history. »
A few rows away from them, a group of about sixty Americans from a Catholic school in Michigan also came to attend the funeral. The group, which was on a trip to Italy, changed plans at the last minute. “We were supposed to visit St. Peter’s Basilica today,” says Mary Jo Davis, a teacher at Father Gabriel Richard High School.
“It’s great to live this experience and to be there with all these people who honor this wonderful Pope,” she explains, while saying she is surprised to have been able to access Saint Peter’s Square so quickly, despite the several hundred thousand people present. More than a funeral, she thinks this moment will forever mark the lives of her students. “What we teach them in school becomes even more real and concrete today. Right, young people? “, she asks them, laughing.
The funeral had not yet started that Stéphane Sané was already very moved. “As a Christian, this is the last tribute I can pay to a person who has contributed so much to the advancement of my faith. His thinking also helped the Catholic Church to progress, modernize and move forward,” he explains.
Barely arrived in Saint Peter’s Square, he finds himself in spite of himself in charge of a mission. “When I arrived, a lady came to ask me for help in distributing Mass booklets. I immediately took the box with the booklets and started distributing them. I didn’t even know her, but I did it with a good heart,” he laughs.
It is this spirit of solidarity in these funerals that particularly strikes Stéphane Sané, a Senegalese by birth who now lives in Rome. “It’s solidarity as I know it in Africa. Even if we don’t know the person, we are together to accompany someone towards death, ”he explains.
Each person present at this funeral has an anecdote to tell about Benedict XVI. “For me, this funeral is an opportunity to come full circle,” said Catherine Assen, a New Zealander who saw Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Australia in 2008.
At that time, his sister had contributed to the smooth running of the papal visit. “My sister worked in one of the residences where the pope had stayed. She took care of him and his meals. He came for us [en 2008]so it’s my turn to come here for him”, explains the one who traveled with friends to attend the funeral.
A funeral full of emotions
Benedict XVI’s funeral, which lasted nearly two hours, began in thick fog at the Vatican. But during the mass, clearings and a few rays of sunshine appeared, a kind of sign from heaven according to several faithful, who became even more moved. “I wanted to cry I was so touched. It was really a great ceremony,” says Sister Marie Chantal as she leaves Saint-Pierre Square.
“It is the first time that I have seen a pope so close and that I have attended a funeral. Like her, thousands of people came to the Vatican, sometimes from abroad. Elisabeth Bernard came from France precisely for the occasion. “Coming today was of paramount importance, I couldn’t see myself not coming. »
She explains that she has developed a special bond with Pope Benedict XVI over the years, which makes this moment even more emotional for her. “He was like a compass for me, a father in the full sense of the term. Her voice was reassuring and calming, she practically rocked me. It helped me a lot to face events in my personal life,” she says.
Elisabeth Bernard says she experienced great sadness during this funeral, which the Vatican wanted solemn, but sober, to respect the wishes of the late pope. Until her return to France this Friday, Elisabeth Bernard will continue to pray for Benedict XVI. “He is now contemplating Jesus. For someone who has always served, I couldn’t wish him better,” she concludes.