(Vatican City) Pope Francis on Thursday paid a final tribute to his predecessor Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday at the age of 95, during the funeral of the former German pontiff in the solemn setting of Saint Peter’s Square, in the presence of 50,000 faithful mingled with heads of state and crowned heads.
“Benedict […] May your joy be perfect when you hear the voice (of God, Editor’s note), definitively and forever! launched the pope during his homily delivered from the altar overlooking the gigantic esplanade in front of the basilica.
Surrounded by cardinals, Francis, who arrived in a wheelchair, faced the simple wooden coffin containing the remains of Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, on which had been placed a copy of the Gospels. The ceremony, punctuated by prayers and songs, lasted about 1 hour 20 minutes.
The mass, of the Latin rite and in several languages, was concelebrated by more than 4000 cardinals, bishops and priests, but its exceptional character resided in the presence of a pope at the funeral of his predecessor, a first in the recent history of the ‘Church.
At the end of the ceremony, the coffin was transported inside the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica, where it was buried in the crypt where his predecessor, John Paul II, rested until his beatification in 2011, date to which his coffin had been moved.
Previously, Pope Francis, standing and leaning on a cane, made a sign of the cross in front of the coffin, touched it briefly and then bowed his head in a final salute.
In the crowd, a group of faithful waved a banner with the inscription in Italian “Santosubito” (“Holy immediately”), a slogan chanted during the funeral of John Paul II to demand his immediate canonization.
Among the many heads of state and government present in the assembly was the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, a compatriot of the late pope. The bells rang at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. EST) in several German cities, including Benedict XVI’s birthplace in Bavaria, Marktl.
In Rome, the presence of a cardinal in particular was noticed, that of Joseph Zen, arrested last year under the national security law in force in Hong Kong, but authorized to attend the funeral of the pope emeritus.
Before the ceremony, the faithful, including many priests and nuns, had patiently lined up to pass the security gates and enter the square surrounded by Bernini’s colonnade. Some had come with German and Bavarian flags, but also Argentinian, in homage to the country of origin of Pope Francis.
“I consider Benedict XVI a bit like my father and therefore I could not miss this opportunity to pay tribute to him,” Cristina Grisanti, a 59-year-old Milanese, told AFP.
Benedikt Rothweiler, a 34-year-old German from Aachen, said he was very moved: “We will no longer have a German pope! “.
From Monday to Wednesday, nearly 200,000 faithful had already come to Saint Peter’s Basilica to pray before the remains of the German theologian, whose renunciation in 2013 surprised the whole world.
Medals and coins
In keeping with tradition, Benedict XVI’s cypress coffin contains coins and medals minted during his pontificate, his pallium (liturgical vestment) as well as a text briefly describing his pontificate, placed in a metal cylinder.
Such an event is a first in the recent history of the Catholic Church, which has 1.3 billion faithful worldwide. In 1802, Pius VII had celebrated the funeral of Pius VI, who had died in exile in France three years earlier, but the latter had not renounced his office.
The death of Benedict XVI puts an end to ten years of cohabitation between two men in white in the Vatican, and revives speculation on a possible early retirement of Francis, in fragile health.
A brilliant professor of theology, Joseph Ratzinger, a reserved intellectual not at ease with the media and crowds, was for a quarter of a century the strict guardian of the dogma of the Church in Rome at the head of the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith before being elected pope in 2005.
His pontificate was marked by multiple crises, such as the Vatileaks scandal in 2012, which exposed a vast network of corruption in the Vatican.
He had been implicated in early 2022 by a report in Germany on his handling of sexual violence when he was Archbishop of Munich. He then broke his silence to ask for “pardon”, but assured that he had never covered up a child criminal.