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Tens of thousands of mourners pay respects to former Pope Benedict XVI as he lies in state

Public viewing has been set for 10 hours on Monday and 12 hours each on Tuesday and Wednesday, ahead of the former pontiff’s funeral on Thursday

Philip Pullella
Monday 02 January 2023 19:17 GMT
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Mourners pay respects as Pope Benedict XVI lies in state in St Peter’s Basilica

Tens of thousands of people have visited St. Peter’s Basilica to pay their respects to the former Pope Benedict XVI. His body is lying in state, without any papal garments or effects, ahead of his funeral this week.

The former Pope, a hero to conservative Catholics who yearned for a return to a more traditional Church, died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the secluded Vatican monastery where he had lived since 2013 when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the position.

Mourners queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica to pay homage to the former Pope Benedict at the Vatican (Reuters)
Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and president Sergio Mattarella were among those who came to pay their respects (Reuters)

Security was tight, with visitors going through several checkpoints before entering the basilica. Many stopped to pray after viewing the body, or stayed to attend mass in a side chapel.

Vatican police said that in the first five hours, 40,000 people had filed past to view the former Pope’s body.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, said he had come from Venice on an overnight train to view the former Pope’s body. “I wanted to pay homage to Benedict because he had a key role in my life and my education,” Mr Tuccio said.

Veronica Siegal, 16, a Catholic high-school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Reuters after viewing the body: “I feel like he was a grandfather to us.”

Ms Siegal, who was visting Rome for a programme of religious study, said she had read one of Benedict’s books on Jesus for one of her courses.

“I know that he is in a better place because he was a holy man and he led so well,” said her classmate, Molly Foley, also 16, from Atlanta, Georgia. A third girl in the group wore an American flag on her back.

Public viewing was set for 10 hours on Monday, and 12 hours each on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The former Pope’s body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments and placed on a simple dais, was moved in a procession just before dawn through the Vatican Gardens from the monastery to a spot in front of the main altar of Christendom’s largest church.

People wait in a line to enter Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (AP)
Thousands of people came to pay their respects to the former pontiff (AP/Vatican News Service)

Two Swiss Guards stood to attention on either side of the body, which bore no papal insignia or regalia, such as a crosier (the silver staff with a crucifix), or a pallium, a band of cloth worn around the neck worn by archdiocesan bishops.

Both were on Pope John Paul II’s body when it lay in state in 2005.

It was not clear if the pastoral cross or any other items the former Pope used will be buried with him, but the decision not to have them on view during his lying in state appeared to have been made in order to underscore the fact that he was no longer Pope when he died.

Giorgia Meloni pays tribute to the former Pope Benedict as thousands queue outside Vatican

Before the church was opened to the public, Italian president Sergio Mattarella and prime minister Giorgia Meloni were the first outsiders to pay their respects.

Benedict’s closest aide, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, sat in the first pew to the side of the body, along with the former Pope’s household and medics who had looked after him in his final days.

After a few hours, they rose to pray before the body. Archbishop Ganswein stayed behind to receive condolences from visitors.

Mourners look at the body of the late former Pope Benedict XVI laid out in state inside St Peter’s Basilica (AP)
Visitors crowd St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on New Year’s Day (AP)

“I had to come,” Sri, a woman visiting from Jakarta, Indonesia, told reporters. “He was the Pope and I am a Catholic,” she said, declining to give her surname.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said the former Pope would be buried according to his wishes, in the same spot in the crypts under St Peter’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II was originally interred in 2005 before his body was moved up to a chapel in the basilica in 2011.

His funeral will be held on Thursday in St Peter’s Square, and will be presided over by Pope Francis.

The procedures taking place for the death of Benedict could become the template for future papal funerals (L’Osservatore Romano/AP)

The Vatican has said it will be a simple, solemn and sober ceremony in keeping with Benedict’s wishes.

The Vatican has painstakingly elaborate rituals for what happens after a reigning pope dies, but none for a former pope, so what happens in the next few days could become the template for future ex-popes.

Mr Bruni said the details of the funeral mass were not yet complete.

While the number of visitors was large, there were no signs of the huge crowds who came to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II, when millions waited for hours to enter the basilica.

Reuters

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