Flocks of faithful at St. Peter's Basilica to greet Benedict XVI
Steph Deschamps / January 2, 2023
Thousands of faithful marched Monday under the gold of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to gather in front of the remains of Benedict XVI, who died Saturday at age 95 and whose funeral will be celebrated Thursday by Pope Francis.
A long line of people have been waiting since dawn in St. Peter's Square, surrounded by Bernini's colonnade, in the presence of many media and a thousand members of the police force.
"It seemed normal to come and pay homage to him after all he has done for the Church," Sister Anna-Maria, an Italian nun, told AFP.
He was a great pope, profound and unique," said Francesca Gabrielli, who came especially from Tuscany, and who appreciates the "atmosphere of recollection" in the basilica.
The remains of Joseph Ratzinger rest on a catafalque stretched with fabric, surrounded by two Swiss guards in ceremonial dress, in front of the main altar of the basilica dominated by a bronze canopy with twisted colonnades.
The deceased pope is dressed in red - the color of papal mourning - and wearing a white miter with a golden girdle, a rosary and a crucifix in his hands.
After passing through a security gate, worshippers and tourists enter the central aisle of the world's largest church, most taking pictures of the former pope's body with their smartphones. Some pray or make the sign of the cross.
Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was among the first visitors.
St. Peter's Basilica, a masterpiece of Renaissance and Baroque architecture completed in 1626, is one of the most important places in Christianity, as it houses the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, disciple of Christ and first bishop of Rome, whose successors are the popes.
A brilliant theologian and fervent guardian of dogma, Benedict XVI, who gave up his office in 2013 due to declining strength, passed away peacefully Saturday morningat the monastery where he had been living since then, located in the heart of the Vatican gardens.
Early Monday, his body was transferred to the basilica where a blessing ritual was held, in the presence of his close entourage, including the private secretary of the pope emeritus, Mgr Georg Gänswein.
It is Pope Francis who will preside over the funeral of his predecessor on Thursday, an unprecedented event in the two thousand year history of the Catholic Church that will put an end to the unusual cohabitation of the two men in white.
The ceremony, "solemn but sober" according to the Vatican, will be held from 09:30 in St. Peter's Square, where the funeral of John Paul II had attracted one million people in 2005.
The first German pope in modern history will then be buried in the crypt of the basilica where John Paul II rested until 2011, said Monday the spokesman for the Holy See, Matteo Bruni.
The last words of Benedict XVI, pronounced in Italian a few hours before his death on Saturday in the presence of a nurse at his bedside, were: "Lord, I love you", reported Archbishop Gänswein.
After eight years of a pontificate marked by multiple crises, Benedict XVI was caught up in early 2022 by the drama of pedocriminality in the Church. Questioned by a report in Germany on his management of sexual violence when he was Archbishop of Munich, he came out of his silence to ask for "forgiveness" but assured that he had never covered up for a pedocriminal.
A subject raised by Valerie Michalak, a German woman who came with her husband and their four children, originally from Dortmund, as they left the basilica: "We know that he knew certain details and he did not help to open the Pandora's box," she regrets.
Born in 1927, Joseph Ratzinger taught theology for 25 years in Germany before being named Archbishop of Munich.
He then became the Church's strict guardian of dogma for another quarter century in Rome as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The last pope to participate in the Second Vatican Council, he nevertheless defended a conservative line at the head of the Church, notably on abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia.