Tens of thousands of people view the body of Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY — The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his head rested on two crimson pillows, was left untouched at St Peter’s Basilica on Monday as tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects to the pope. The pope shocked the world when he retired a decade ago.

On the eve of the first three days of viewing, Italian security officials had said that at least 25,000-30,000 people would arrive on Monday. But by mid-afternoon, about six hours after the basilica’s doors were opened to the public, Vatican police estimated that about 40,000 people had arrived at the body, the Holy See said.

As daylight dawns, 10 Gentlemen of the Pope in white gloves — lay aides to the pope and his households — carry the body on a wooden stretcher covered with cloth after arriving at the basilica rest in front of the main altar under Bernini’s towering canopy.

A Swiss Guard salutes as the body is brought in through a side door after Benedict’s remains, placed in a truck, were moved from the chapel of the convent grounds, where the 95-year-old former pope increasingly sick passed away Saturday morning.

His longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and several dedicated laywomen serving in his family, walked a few hundred yards behind the truck in a silent procession probably towards the basilica. Some women reach out to touch their bodies with respect.

Before the ordinary faithful were allowed to enter the basilica, prayers were recited and the basilica’s rector, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled holy water over the body, and a small wreath of incense was poured over the body. drop near the coffin. Benedict’s hands clasped together, a rosary around his fingers.

Just after 9am (08:00 GMT), the doors of the basilica were opened so that the public, some of whom had waited for hours in the pre-dawn damp, could pay their respects. for the late pope, who retired from the papacy in 2013 to become the first pope to do so in 600 years.

Loyal and curious, the public strode quickly up the middle aisle to pass the cloth-covered coffin after waiting in line until mid-morning circling St. Peter’s Square.

Benedict’s body was covered with a helmet, a bishop’s cap and a red cape.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, said he came from Venice on an overnight train to see Benedict’s body.

“I want to pay tribute to Pope Benedict because he played such an important role in my life and upbringing,” said Tuccio.

“When I was young, I participated in World Youth Day,” the pilgrim said, referring to the meetings of the young faithful that are held periodically and attended by the popes. Tuccio added that he studied theology, and that “his pontificate accompanied me through my college years.”

“He was very important to me: about who I am, my way of thinking, my values,” continued Tuccio.

Among those who came to see the basilica was Cardinal Walter Kasper, who, like Benedict, was a German theologian. Kasper served as head of the Vatican’s Christian unity office during Benedict’s pontificate.

Kasper told the Associated Press that Benedict XVI left an “important mark” on theology and spirituality, as well as on the history of the papacy, with the courage to step aside.

“This resignation is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and greatness because he finds that he is no longer able to cope with the challenges of being a teacher,” Kasper said. King.

Kasper, one of the cardinals who elected Benedict pope in 2005, added that the decision to step down has brought “a more human vision to the pope: that the pope is a man and dependent to his physical and mental strength”.

The public is seen for 10 hours on Monday, and 12 hours each Tuesday and Wednesday before the funeral on Thursday morning, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square.

As Benedict wished, the funeral will be marked with simplicity, the Vatican said in announcing the death Saturday.

On Monday, the Vatican confirmed the widely reported burial plan. According to his wishes, his tomb would be in the crypt of the cave below the basilica, which was last used by Saint John Paul II, before his body was moved to the upper floor of the royal palace. main basilica before he was beatified in 2011, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

On either side of the plaza’s colonnade, onlookers go through the usual security measures required by tourists entering the basilica – passing through metal detectors and scanning bags through an X-ray machine.

Marina Ferrante, 62, is among them.

“I think his main legacy is teaching us how to be free,” she said. “He had an exceptional intelligence when it came to saying the essentials of his faith and it was contagious” to other believers. “What I thought when he died was that I wanted to be as free as he was.”

While venturing that the shy German church and theologian, the nerd and the current Argentina-born pope have different temperaments, “I believe there is a continuum between him and Germany. Pope Francis and anyone who understands the real relationship between them and Christ can see that,” Ferrante said.

An American man living in Rome called the opportunity to see the body “a wonderful experience”. Mountain Butorac, 47, a native of Atlanta, said he arrived 90 minutes before dawn.

“I loved Benedict, I loved him as a cardinal (Joseph Ratzinger), when he was elected pope and after he retired,” Butorac said. “I think he’s kind of a grandfather to everyone living in the Vatican.”

With organ music and a soft performance of “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy” in Ancient Greek) by the choir, the guides moved the blesseds in a direction descend steadily down the central aisle of the basilica and then gently push them forward, saying, in Italian, “avanti” (continue) to keep the pace fast. Someone left a red rose.

Several key figures had a moment in public to pay their respects, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who in the past has expressed admiration for the Benedict’s conservative leanings.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella also came to see the body. The Vatican said only official delegations from two countries – from Italy and from Germany, Benedict XVI’s hometown – were officially invited to the funeral, as the pope emeritus is no longer head of state.

Sister Regina Brand was among the mourners who arrived in the square before dawn.

She said: “He is a German pope and I am from Germany. I’m here to express my gratitude and love, and I want to pray for him and meet him.”


Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.


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