About 200,000 people came in 3 days to see Benedict’s body

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis praised the “deep and gentle thinking” of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during Wednesday’s general audience at the Vatican, when tens of thousands of people admired the retired pontiff to his body in St Peter’s Basilica on the day of the final farewell.

By the time the basilica’s doors were closed to the public on Wednesday night, some 200,000 people had paid their respects over three days of viewing.

Once closed, Vatican officials are preparing to place the 95-year-old German church’s body in a wooden coffin, ahead of Thursday morning’s funeral in St. Peter’s Square.

Among the final viewers was a couple from Calabria. Gaspare Guadagnuolo, 73, and Lina Proto, 62, said they remember Benedict XVI’s visit to the south many years ago.

“I was impressed by everyone’s participation,” says Proto. “There are so many intense emotions.”

During his customary weekly audience, Francis was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd in the Paul VI auditorium and chanted “Viva il papa!” or “Long live the Pope”.

Małgorzata Nowska, a Polish resident in Rome, said: “I had a duty to come here on Wednesday. She said she wanted to give Benedict “one last hug, one last prayer.”

Pope Francis will preside over Benedict’s funeral, an event that attracts heads of state and royalty despite Benedict’s simple request and Vatican efforts to keep the first funeral of a religious teacher alive. Royal honors are discreet in modern times.

Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed their participation.

But other heads of state and government decided to accept the Vatican’s offer and come “in their own way”. They include several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two royal delegations. All participate in what the Vatican describes as a “private” role.

And in another sign of formality, the Italian government announced it would lower all Italian and European Union flags by half a foot on public buildings around the country on Thursday.

Pope Francis drew applause as he opened his address by shouting out loud all those outside to pay respects to Benedict, whom he called a “great catechist.” grand”.

“His deep and gentle thinking was not personal, but ecclesial, because he always wanted to accompany us in our encounter with Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

Later Wednesday, Vatican officials will place Benedict XVI’s body in a cypress sarcophagus — the first of three — along with a brief written summary of the papacy. his history, the coins minted during his pontificate and his pallium strings.

After the funeral in the square, the remains will be returned to the basilica, where the coffin will be placed inside a zinc casket, and finally another oak coffin.

In keeping with Benedict’s wishes, his remains will be placed in the crypt that was once the tomb of Saint John Paul II in the caves below the basilica. John Paul’s tomb was moved to the upper level of the main basilica before his beatification in 2011.

Benedict, who was elected pope in 2005 following the death of John Paul, became the first pope in six centuries to resign when he announced in 2013 that he was no longer fit to lead the Church Catholic association. After Francis was elected pope, Benedict spent his nearly decade-long retirement in a converted convent in the Vatican Gardens.

“We can’t forget the example he set when he resigned, that he more or less said: ‘Look, I’m not here for the prestige, the power of the office, I’m there for the cause. serve, because Jesus taught,” recalled Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was appointed archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict in 2009 and cardinal in 2012.

Thursday’s ceremony took into account the unusual situation in which a sitting pope would preside over the funeral of a retired person, making important changes to funeral rites for popes that have not been known. has been highly systematized.

For example, the two main prayers, from the diocese of Rome and from Eastern rite churches, recited at John Paul’s funeral, will be omitted because Benedict XVI was not pope when he died. and since both branches of the Catholic Church still have a reigning king. the pope as their leader: Francis.

Although the funeral was novel, it had some precedent: In 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral service at St. Peter of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon. The Vatican noted on Wednesday.


Giada Zampano contributed.


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