Faithful mourn Benedict XVI at funeral presided over by pope

Pope Francis joined tens and thousands of faithful to bid farewell to Benedict XVI during a rare requiem mass Thursday for a deceased pope presided by a living one. This marked the end of an unprecedented decade of the Catholic Church’s growth that was sparked in part by the retirement of the German theologian.

The crowd cheered and bells tolled as the pallbearers lifted Benedict’s cypress coffin from the St. Peter’s Basilica, where it was covered in fog, and placed it on the square. Francis wore the crimson vestments of papal funerals and opened the service by saying a prayer. He then blessed the casket, which was only decorated with the coat of arms of the former pope.

Between, Francis only made a fleeting mention to Benedict in his Homily. He offered a meditation upon Christ rather than a eulogy about his predecessor’s legacy, before the casket was sealed, and he was ensconced in the basilica.

The ceremony was attended by heads of state and royalty, as well as clergy from all over the globe. Despite Benedict’s request to simplify the proceedings and his official attempts to keep the first funeral of a pope-emeritus in modern days low-key, thousands of people attended the subdued event.


Many mourners were from Benedict’s native Bavaria, and wore traditional clothing to protect against the morning chill.

Raymond Mainar, who came from a small village east to Munich to attend the funeral, said that they had come to Benedict’s funeral. “He was a very great pope.”

Some people ignored the exhortations to decorum at the conclusion and held banners or shouted, “Santo Subito!” — “Sainthood Now!” — echoing spontaneous chants that erupted at St. John Paul II’s 2005 funeral.

Joseph Ratzinger, a former priest, died Dec. 31, at 95. He was considered one of 20th century’s most influential theologians. He spent his entire life defending church doctrine. However, he will be remembered for his singular and revolutionary act of resigning as pope, the first in six centuries.

Francis has praised Benedict for his courage in standing aside and said it “opened up the door” for others popes to do so.

According to the Vatican, approximately 50,000 people attended Thursday’s Mass after approximately 200,000 paid their respects over three days.

Italy and Germany were the only countries invited to send their official delegations. However, other leaders accepted the Vatican’s invitation and arrived in their “private capacity”. A host of patriarchs joined the 125 cardinals at the altar’s side, while the Russian Orthodox Church sent its foreign ambassador.

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen was among those who attended the funeral. He was granted special permission by the court. Zen was arrested in May for allegedly conspiring with foreign forces in China’s national security laws. He was accused of participating in a now-silenced democracy group. When he was detained, his passport was revoked.

The former pope’s closest confidants were also present. Archbishop Georg Gaenswein (the long-serving secretary of the archbishop) bent down to kiss a book on the Gospels left open on the coffin just before the ceremony started.

Matteo Colonna (20-year-old seminarian) from Teramo in Italy said that he was drawn to the funeral’s historicity, but also because it held a personal meaning for him.

Colonna stated, “The first spark in my vocation began under the pontificates of Benedict and then it was stronger under Pope Francis,” while Colonna was praying in St. Peter’s Square at sunrise. “I see continuity between these popes, and the fact that Francis is today celebrating Benedict’s funeral is an historic event.

The service was significant because it did not have the same feeling of uncertainty as a passing pope. Benedict’s death, which Francis had taken place, marked the end to a decade during which a former pope was living alongside him.

Alessandra Aprea (56), a Meta di Sorrento native, said that Benedict was “the bridge between John Paul II and Francis.” “We couldn’t have Francis without him.”

The Vatican released early Thursday the official history Benedict’s life. It was a brief document in Latin, which was placed in a metal tube in Benedict’s coffin before it was sealed. Also included were the coins and medallions that Benedict minted during his pontificate and his pallium stoles.

The document paid a lot of attention to Benedict’s historical resignation and called him “pope emeritus” citing verbatim his Latin words on February 11, 2013, when he announced that he would be retiring.

This document is known as a “rogito,” or deed. It also mentions his theological and papal heritage, such as his outreach to Anglicans, Jews, and his efforts to combat clergy sexual assault.

Francis did not mention Benedict’s specific legacy and only once mentioned his name in his homily. Instead, he delivered a meditation on Jesus’ willingness of entrusting himself to God’s will.

Francis stated, “We too, as an ecclesial community, hold fast to the Lord’s last words, and to the witness of His entire life. We want to follow his footsteps and to commend him into the hands of God.”

Ratzinger, who was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during St. John Paul II’s quarter-century in office, led a crackdown against dissent. He took action against liberation theology and dissenting nuns that didn’t follow the strict Vatican guidelines on sexual morality.

His legacy was marred in the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Despite the fact that he knew more than most about the “filthy” priests who raped children and laid the foundation for the Holy See’s punishment, he did not recognize it.

He was both cardinal and pope when he passed extensive church legislation. This led to 848 priests being defrocked between 2004 and 2014, which is roughly his pontificate of a year. He was still blamed by abuse survivors for failing to sanction bishops who moved abusers about, refusing police to report sex crimes to them, and identifying him to be the embodiment of the clerical system which long protected the institution above the victims.

Mike McDonnell, a member of the U.S. abuse survivors group SNAP, stated that while Benedict passed new canon law laws, he could do far more to get John Paul to take action. He referred to Benedict’s nickname “God’s Rottweiler” and said that it was “a dog bark without taking a bite.” He could have done more.

German clergy abuse survivors urged Benedict’s funeral officials to take more action against sexual abuse from the Vatican. Eckiger Tisch urged leaders to ask Francis to issue a “universal Church Law” that prohibits clergy abuse.

The funeral ritual is based on the code for dead popes, but with some modifications because Benedict was not a reigning Pontiff at his death.

After the Mass, Benedict’s coffin of cypress was placed in a zinc one and then an outer oak case before being incised in the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. This crypt was once the site of the John Paul’s grave before it was moved upstairs.

Although Thursday’s Mass was not common, it did have a precedent. In 1802, Pope Pius VII presided at the funeral at St. Peter’s for his predecessor, Pius VI. Pius VI had been exiled to France in 1799, while he was being held prisoner by Napoleon.