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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose “wisdom” Pope Francis highlighted during his homily at the funeral Mass, was bid farewell Thursday in a sober ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in front of some 50,000 people, before being buried in the tomb that belonged to his admired John Paul II.
In what is almost an unprecedented circumstance in the history of the Catholic Church, the Argentine pontiff presided over the funeral of his predecessor, who died last December 31 at the age of 95 a decade after his historic resignation from the pontificate, and which was officiated by the dean of the College of Cardinals, the Italian Giovani Battista Re.
The funeral of the German pope, concelebrated by 130 cardinals, 400 bishops and 4,000 priests, was very similar to those of the previous pontiffs, although with some differences since Benedict XVI was not the “reigning” pope, as the Vatican did not declare a day of mourning and everything remained open.
“Wisdom, Gentleness and Dedication”
The coffin with the mortal remains was carried on the shoulders of twelve “sediarios”, the bearers of the ancient Gestatory Chairs, to the atrium of St. Peter’s Square, today enveloped by a dense fog from inside the basilica, where the funeral chapel had been installed, visited by about 200,000 people during the three days prior to the funeral.
A loud applause greeted the appearance of the coffin, which was placed in front of the altar while the bells rang for the dead and the personal secretary of Benedict XVI, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, placed an open book of the Gospels on it, after which the recitation of the rosary that preceded the ceremony began.
Pope Francis highlighted the “wisdom, gentleness and dedication” that Benedict XVI “knew how to spread over the years” in his homily, which he read seated due to his knee problems and which began with the last words that the Lord pronounced on the cross according to the Gospel: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.
“Like the women of the Gospel at the tomb, we are here with the perfume of gratitude and the ointment of hope to show him, once again, that love that is not lost; we want to do it with the same unction, wisdom, gentleness and dedication that he knew how to spread over the years,” added Pope Francis, who made very few explicit references to the emeritus.
After the funeral, the remains were transferred to the Vatican Grottoes, located under St. Peter’s Basilica where the popes are buried, to be exhumed in the tomb that belonged to St. John Paul II, at Ratzinger’s express wish.
Before entering the basilica, Francis stood for a few minutes and placed his hand in front of the coffin.
“Santo subito” and fewer attendees
About 50,000 people attended the funeral, a figure well below initial estimates, according to data provided by the Vatican gendarmerie, as the police headquarters of the Italian capital had even predicted double the number of attendees, after about 200,000 visited the basilica in the three days of the funeral chapel.
Some of the faithful held up a large banner that read “Santo Subito” ([make him a] Saint now), a petition that also resounded loudly during the funeral of John Paul II, but it was not as crowded as the funeral of the Polish pope in 2005, which was attended by about 200,000 faithful.
According to the security plan approved by the Italian capital’s police, airspace has been closed in the entire area, and helicopters, snipers, special forces, including anti-terrorist forces, firefighters, and municipal police have been made available. In total, more than 1,000 agents were employed.
The funeral was not a state funeral, so the authorities attended in a personal capacity and only two delegations had official status, those of Italy and Ratzinger’s home country, Germany, led by their presidents, Sergio Mattarella and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, respectively.
Among the dignitaries from 20 countries present were Queen Emeritus Sofia of Spain, Monarchs Philippe and Mathilde of Belgium, Colombian Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva Duran, as well as the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, the President of Slovenia, Natasa Pirc Musar, the President of Togo, Faure Essozinma Gnassingbe, and the President of Hungary, Katalin Novak.
Also represented were the Orthodox Patriarchate of Russia, with Metropolitan Antonij di Volokolamsk, as well as the Jewish community of Rome and the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS), with its vice-president Yahya Pallavicini.