The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, presided over by his successor Pope Francis. is a first for the Catholic Church

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was buried Thursday in Vatican City at the first funeral ever conducted by a sitting pope for his predecessor. Pope Franciswho has led the Catholic Church since his election in 2013 after Benedict’s surprising resignation, led the funeral service.

The historic funeral crowned a chapter in the history of the Catholic Church marked in particular by Benedict’s decision to resign – the first pope to do so in modern times.

Up to 100,000 people were expected to throng St. Peter’s Square for the funeral mass, which would be held in a manner similar to that for a seated pope.

Vatican Benedict XVI funeral
Pope Francis sits at the coffin of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. in St. Peter’s Square during a funeral mass at the Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Andrew Medichini/AP

The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict was carried in front of crowds in a traditional coffin made of cypress wood early Thursday morning and buried in front of ancient St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a celebratory occasion, but also a historic one.

Among the tens of thousands gathered in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica were more than 100 cardinals, 400 bishops and nearly 4,000 priests from around the world.

“He was a great pope,” said Father Calistus Kahale Kabindama, a priest who traveled all the way from Zambia to pay his respects. “He was a wonderful pope.”

The US Ambassador to the Holy See speaks about the death of Pope Benedict XVI


The late Pope had asked for a simple burial. He died last week at the age of 95. After his surprising resignation almost 10 years ago, Benedict lived in a monastery in the Vatican. He still wore white robes and spent most of his time reading and writing theology.

Nothing beat the tenure of Benedict XVI. as clearly defined as the head of the world’s Catholics as was his end – marked by his majestic farewell flight over the Eternal City in a helicopter – after becoming the first pope to voluntarily resign in more than 700 years.

Benedikt said at the time that his mental and physical strength had sunk so much “that I had to recognize my inability to carry out the service entrusted to me”.

A naturally shy man, Benedict always said he had no ambitions to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. But he was elected to succeed Pope John Paul II in 2005. At 78, he assumed the role of the oldest pope in almost 30 years.

The Life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI


He entered the priesthood after World War II and rose to cardinal. In his powerful position as head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” as a rigid executor of church politics. It was a characterization by his biographer, John Allen, that Ratzinger worked hard to change.

“He was seen as tough, as authoritarian, as controlling … and it was important to him from the start to revise that … public image, and I think by and large he’s been quite successful in doing that,” Allen said.

He did it by being what he was by nature: a teacher, and one who spoke clearly and without undue theological jargon.

Only Italy and Benedict’s native Germany sent official delegations to the Mass on Thursday, although kings from Belgium and Spain and more than a dozen heads of state and ambassadors to the Holy See from many nations also came to honor the former pope.

After the burial, Benedict’s cypress coffin was to be placed in a zinc coffin and then in a larger wooden coffin before being buried privately in the grottoes below St. Peter’s Basilica.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has held a novena, or nine days of prayer, in memory of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. called, which is scheduled to begin on Thursday. The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, presided over by his successor Pope Francis. is a first for the Catholic Church

Rick Schindler

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