July 14, 2024
News Vatican

120 cardinals, 400 bishops, 4000 priests and 1 Pope to bury another

Benedict died at 95 on New Year’s Eve in a monastery within the Vatican gardens where he moved after becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to stand down, opening the way for the election of Francis, who has proved a more reformist, hands-on leader.

The body of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lies in state inside St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.Credit:AP

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the funeral in front of the imposing St Peter’s Basilica. In keeping with Benedict’s wishes, the ceremony would be simple, sombre and sober, the Vatican has said.

The funeral procession will start at 6:45pm AEDT when the coffin is carried out of the basilica, and the open-air service at 7:30pm.

The faithful, who are expected to number at least 60,000, have been invited to recite the rosary aloud. Pope Francis will preside over the funeral, taking his place in front of a canopied altar, and delivering the homily and key invocations.

Celebrating the Mass at the altar will be Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals. Sharing in the celebration are 120 cardinals, 400 bishops and nearly 4000 priests. Those involve reciting a formal farewell known in Latin as “Ultima Commendatio et Valedictio” and sprinkling the remains with blessed water and incense.

The lying-in-state ended on Wednesday evening and the body was put into a plain cypress wood coffin ready for the funeral. A one-page account of Benedict’s papacy, along with other items, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, were also tucked into the coffin.

At the ceremony, Benedict’s coffin will be returned to the basilica and taken down to the grottoes under the main floor. There, near the underground crypt where he chose as his final resting place, the cypress coffin will be placed inside one made of zinc. That coffin in turn will be placed inside a third one, made of oak.

Because Benedict was no longer a head of state when he died, only two countries, Italy and his native Germany, sent official delegations to the funeral.

Other leaders, including the king and queen of Belgium and the queen of Spain, and about 13 heads of state or government, would attend in a private capacity. Most nations were being represented by their ambassadors to the Holy See.

It is a far cry from the last papal funeral in 2005, when dozens of kings, presidents and prime ministers joined more than a million people who flooded the streets around the Vatican to pay their respects to Benedict’s charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.

An intellectual theologian, Benedict was always likely to rule in the shadow of John Paul, who was credited with helping end the Cold War. But his time in charge was to a degree spent trying to overcome problems the Church had ignored or covered up in previous decades, including rampant sexual abuses by clerics.

Benedict himself acknowledged he was a weak administrator, and after eight years in the job he stunned the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in 2013 by resigning, saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church due to his “advanced age”.

Even though he largely avoided public appearances in subsequent years, he remained a standard-bearer for Catholic conservatives, who felt alienated by reforms ushered in by Francis, including cracking down on the old Latin Mass.

This week almost 200,000 people filed past Benedict’s body dressed in a mitre and red vestments, his hands wrapped in a rosary, which was placed on a bier in St Peter’s Basilica without any papal regalia.

“He was a great pope, a marvellous pope. He was able to explain the scriptural matters of faith and also the traditional teachings of the Church,” said Father Callistus Kahale Kabindama, a priest from Zambia.

Benedict’s remains will go into a crypt where John Paul II’s tomb had rested. John Paul’s remains were moved upstairs from the grottoes and into the main basilica for his 2011 beatification during Benedict’s papacy. Pope Francis declared the Polish pontiff a saint in 2014.

More than 1000 Italian security personnel were called up to help safeguard the Benedict’s funeral and airspace around the tiny Holy See has been closed off for the day. Italy ordered that flags around the country be hung at half mast.

While many leading figures have praised Benedict since his death, criticism has also been aired, including by victims of clergy sexual abuse, who have accused him of seeking to protect the Church at all costs.

“Much like John Paul II, Benedict was more concerned about the Church’s deteriorating image and financial flow to the hierarchy versus grasping the concept of true apologies followed by true amends to victims of abuse,” the anti-abuse group SNAP said.

Reuters, AP

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