Members of the faithful paid homage to former Pope Benedict XVI Thursday, with a funeral at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City marked by pomp and tradition.
In line with Benedict’s wishes, his funeral will be “simple,” according to the director of the press office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni. It will be the first occasion in modern times a pope has presided over his predecessor’s funeral.
Dignitaries and religious leaders lined the square, which can seat approximately 60,000 people, to take part in the prestigious ceremony. Prime Minister Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic, was among those in attendance, according to CNN affiliate CNN Prima.
The ceremony will be similar to that of a reigning pope but there will be some modifications, Bruni said. Benedict will be named pope emeritus during the funeral, and the language of some prayers will be different because he was not the reigning pope when he died.
The faithful prayed to the rosary as Benedict’s coffin left St. Peter’s Basilica at around 8:45 a.m. local time (2.45 a.m. ET) Thursday.
“God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor,” Francis said as he delivered the homily.
“Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years. Together, we want to say: ‘Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.’
“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever,” Francis added.
Francis started leading the mass Thursday morning, when he is expected to give a homily at 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET).
Benedict’s coffin will then be transported through the Basilica and to the Vatican crypt for the burial, in the first tomb of John Paul II.
The tomb was vacated after John Paul II’s body and remains were moved to a chapel inside the Basilica after he became a saint.
At the time of the burial during the rite, a webbing will be placed around the coffin with the seals of the apostolic chamber, the pontifical house and liturgical celebrations. The cypress coffin will be placed inside a zinc coffin that is soldered and sealed, and subsequently placed inside a wooden coffin, which will be buried.
The ceremony is expected to end at around 11:15 a.m. local time (5.15 a.m. ET).
High-profile dignitaries including Queen Sofia of Spain and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are set to attend the funeral, alongside US Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donelly.
Benedict was the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, passed away at the age of 95 on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City, according to a statement from the Vatican.
He was elected pope in April 2005, following John Paul II’s death.
Benedict was known to be more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has made moves to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality, as well as doing more to deal with the sexual abuse crisis that has engulfed the church in recent years and clouded Benedict’s legacy.
The scroll that was put inside Pope Benedict XVI’s coffin, which is a biography of his life and mentions some of the most important moments of his tenure, recalls that he “firmly” fought against pedophilia.
“He firmly fought against crimes committed by members of the clergy against minors or vulnerable persons, continually calling the Church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification,” the scroll said.
His death prompted tributes from political and religious leaders including US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Dalai Lama.
About 200,000 mourners, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella, paid their respects to the former pontiff earlier this week during his lying-in-state in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The public viewing of Benedict finished Wednesday, before an intimate religious rite during which items including coins and medals minted over his tenure and a scroll about the pontificate were placed into his sealed cypress coffin ahead of the funeral.
Francis paid tribute to his predecessor during an audience at the Vatican Wednesday.
“I would like us to join with those here beside us who are paying their respects to Benedict XVI, and to turn my thoughts to him, a great master of catechesis,” he said.
“May he help us rediscover in Christ the joy of believing and the hope of living.”