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Worshipers mourn Benedict XVI at funeral presided over by pope

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis joins tens of thousands of worshipers bid farewell to Benedict XVI at a rare Thursday requiem mass for a dead pope presided over by a living one, ending an unprecedented decade for the Catholic Church that was sparked by the German theologian’s decision to retire.

Bells rang and the crowd cheered as pallbearers emerged from a St. Peter’s Basilica and placed Benedict’s simple cypress coffin in front of the altar in the outer plaza. Dressed in the crimson vestments typical of papal funerals, Francis opened the service with a prayer and closed it, solemnly blessing the coffin and bowing his head.

In between, Francis made only a fleeting reference to Benedict in his homily, offering a meditation on Christ instead of a eulogy of his predecessor’s legacy before the coffin was sealed and buried in the cave of the basilica.

Heads of state and royalty, clergy around the world and thousands of ordinary people flocked to the ceremonydespite Benedict’s demand for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral of a modern-day pope emeritus low-key.

Many of the mourners hailed from Benedict XVI’s native Bavaria and wore traditional clothing, including boiled wool coats to protect against the morning cold.

“We came to pay homage to Benoît and we wanted to be here today to say goodbye to him,” said Raymond Mainar, who came from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good pope.”

Ignoring the urgings for decorum at the end, some in the crowd held up banners or shouted “Santo Subito!” “Holiness now!” — echoing the spontaneous chants that erupted during St. Patrick’s Day. Funeral of John Paul II in 2005.

The ex-Joseph Ratzinger, who died on December 12. 31 to 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and has spent his life defending the doctrine of the Church. But he will go down in history for a singular and revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: He has taken his retirementthe first pope in six centuries to do so.

Francis praised Benedict XVI’s courage in stepping down, saying it “opened the door” to other popes to do the same. But few, including Benedict himself, expected his 10-year retirement to last longer than his eight-year papacy, and the prolonged cohabitation of two popes in the Vatican gardens has prompted calls for protocols to guide future resignations.

Some 50,000 people attended Thursday’s Mass, according to the Vatican, after around 200,000 people paid their respects during three days of public viewing.

Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other leaders accepted the Vatican’s offer and came in a “private” capacity. They included several heads of state and government, delegations of royal representatives, a host of patriarchs and 125 cardinals.

Among those present was Cardinal of Hong Kong Joseph Zen, who received special permission from the court to attend the funeral. Zen was arrested in May on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces under China’s national security law after clashing with authorities over his participation in a now-silent democracy movement. His the passport has been revoked when he was detained.

Benedict’s close confidants were also present, including the former pope’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein. He bent down and kissed a Gospel book left open on the coffin before the ceremony began.

After its end, the coffin was brought to the cave of the basilica, placed first in a zinc coffin, sealed, and then placed in an oak coffin.

A choir’s hymn echoed through the crypt as the coffin was lowered into the ground, complete with Benedict’s papal coat of arms, a cross and a plaque noting in Latin that it contained his body: “Corpus Benedicti XVI PM for “pontifex maximus” or “sovereign pontiff”.

Matteo Colonna, a 20-year-old seminarian from Teramo, Italy, said he came to Rome partly because of the historic nature of the funeral — but also because it had personal resonance for him.

“The first spark of my vocation started under the pontificate of Benedict, but it became even stronger under Pope Francis,” Colonna said, as he sat in prayer at St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s Square at dawn. “I see a continuity between these two popes and the fact that today Francis celebrates the funeral in memory of Benedict is a historic event.”

But the service was also important for what it lacked: the sense of uncertainty that normally accompanies the death of a pope before a new one is elected.

“Benoît was the bridge between Jean-Paul and François,” said Alessandra Aprea, 56, from Meta di Sorrento near Naples. We couldn’t have Francis without him.

Early Thursday, the Vatican released the official life story of Benedict, a short Latin document that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with the coins and medallions minted during his papacy and his pallium stoles.

The document paid great attention to Benedict XVI’s historic resignation and called him “Pope Emeritus”, quoting verbatim the Latin words he uttered on February 17. 11, 2013, when he announced he would be retiring.

The document, known as the “rogito” or deed, also cited his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to address clergy sex abuse “continually calling on the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification”.

Francis did not mention Benedict’s legacy in his homily and only mentioned his name once, in the last line, instead delivering a meditation on Jesus’ willingness to entrust himself to God’s will. God.

“Holding on to the last words of the Lord and the testimony of his whole life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his footsteps and place our brother in the hands of the Father,” Francis said.

During St. John Paul II’s quarter-century as pope, Ratzinger led a crackdown on dissent as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, taking action against the liberation theology of left that spread in Latin America in the 1970s and against dissident theologians and nuns. who did not toe the Vatican’s hard line on issues like sexual morality.

His legacy has been tainted by the clergy sex abuse crisis, though he recognized earlier than most the “dirtyness” of priests who raped children, and in fact laid the groundwork for the Holy See to punish them.

As cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping ecclesiastical legislation that resulted in the defrocking of 848 priests from 2004 to 2014, roughly his pontificate with one year on each end. But abuse survivors have always held him responsible, for failing to sanction any bishop who moved the abusers, refusing to order the reporting of sex crimes to the police and identifying him as embodying the clerical system who has long protected the institution from victims.

Mike McDonnell, of the US abuse survivor group SNAP, said that even if Benedict had passed new canonical laws, he could have done much more to influence John Paul to take strong action. Referring to Benedict’s nickname as “God’s Rottweiler”, he said: “In our opinion, it was dog barking without a bite. He definitely could have done more.”

A group representing survivors of German clergy abuse has called on German officials attending Benedict XVI’s funeral to demand more action from the Vatican against sexual abuse. Eckiger Tisch asked leaders to demand that Francis enact a “universal law of the Church” stipulating zero tolerance for clergy abuse.

Funerals the ritual itself is modeled on the code used for dead popes but with some modifications as Benedict was not a reigning pontiff at his death.

Although the Thursday mass is unusual, it has a precedent: in 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in Saint Petersburg. Pierre of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in exile in France in 1799, a prisoner of Napoleon.


Associated Press reporter Trisha Thomas contributed.


Follow AP coverage of Pope Benedict XVI at https://apnews.com/hub/pope-benedict-xvi

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