Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor, former Pope Benedict XVI, on Thursday at a funeral in St. Peter’s Square, steeped in pageantry and tradition, in Vatican City.
The funeral marked the first time in modern times that a pope officiated at the funeral of his predecessor. Benedict, the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign rather than hold office for life, died on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City at the age of 95.
Dignitaries and religious leaders lined the plaza, which seats about 60,000 people, for the ceremony. Prime Minister Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic was among those in attendance, according to CNN affiliate CNN Prima.
The ceremony was similar to that of an incumbent pope, but with some modifications. Benedict was proclaimed pope emeritus during the funeral, and the language of some prayers was different because he was not the acting pope at his death.
Francis began leading the Mass Thursday morning, during which he preached a sermon around 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET). Members of the crowd later attended a communion.
“God’s faithful people gathered here accompany him now and entrust to him the life of him who was their shepherd,” Francis said as he delivered the homily.
“Like the women at the tomb, we have come with the scent of gratitude and the balm of hope to show him our undying love once more. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he has bestowed on us over the years. Together we want to say: “Father, into your hands we place his spirit.”
“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete in hearing his voice now and forever,” Francis added.
Benedict’s coffin is then transported through the Basilica and to the crypt of the Vatican, where it will be buried in the first tomb of John Paul II.
The tomb was cleared after the body of John Paul II and the remains were moved to a chapel in the basilica after he became a saint.
At the burial during the rite, a webbing is placed around the coffin with the seals of the Apostolic Chamber, the Papal Household and liturgical celebrations. The cypress coffin is placed in a soldered and sealed zinc coffin, and then placed in a wooden coffin, which is buried.
The ceremony is expected to end around 11:15 a.m. local time (5:15 a.m. ET).
High-profile dignitaries such as Queen Sofia of Spain and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will attend the funeral alongside US Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donelly.
Benedict was elected Pope in April 2005 after the death of John Paul II. He was notoriously more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has taken steps to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality and to do more to deal with the sex abuse crisis that has gripped and tarnished the Church in recent years Benedict’s legacy.
The scroll found in the coffin of Pope Benedict XVI. which presents a biography of his life and mentions some of the most important moments of his tenure, recalls that he fought “firmly” against paedophilia.
“He fought resolutely against crimes committed by members of the clergy against minors or vulnerable persons and constantly called upon the church for conversion, prayer, penance and purification,” the scroll reads.
His death led to 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 tribute to the former pope during his residence in St. Peter’s Basilica earlier this week.
Benedict’s public viewing ended Wednesday before an intimate religious rite at which objects including coins and medals minted during his tenure and a scroll detailing the pontificate were placed in his sealed cypress coffin before the funeral.
Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor during an audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
“I want us to join those around us who are supporting Benedict XVI. pay their respects and turn my thoughts to him, a great master of catechesis,” he said.
“May he help us to rediscover in Christ the joy of faith and the hope of life.”