Pope celebrates New Year as Vatican prepares to mourn Benedict

Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Day Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, a day after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in retirement at the Vatican .

The huge basilica will host Benedict’s coffin from Monday. Thousands of worshipers are expected in front of the coffin on the first of three days of viewing.

Benedict, 95, died Saturday morning at the Vatican where he had resided since his retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to step down, citing his growing frailty.

Francis looked tired and sat with his head bowed as Mass began on the first day of the year, an occasion the Catholic Church dedicates to the theme of peace.

He briefly stepped away from reading his homily, which focused on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.

“Today we entrust our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to our Blessed Mother, so that she can accompany him in his passage from this world to God,” he said.

The pontiff will lead Benedict XVI’s funeral on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. This rite will be simple, the Vatican said, in accordance with the wishes of Benedict XVI, who for decades as a German cardinal had been the guardian of the Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy before being elected pope in 2005.

Francis went to pay his respects to Benedict immediately after the retired pontiff’s death, after receiving a call from the Reverend Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s longtime secretary. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis stayed in Benedict’s monastery for some time before returning to the hotel that serves as his home, across the Vatican gardens.

In recent years, Francis has hailed Benedict’s astonishing decision to become the first pope to step down in 600 years and made it clear that he would consider such a step as an option for himself.

Hampered by knee pain, Francis, 86, arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair on Sunday, before taking a seat on a chair for the mass celebrated by the Vatican secretary of state.

Francis, who has repeatedly decried the war in Ukraine and its ravages, recalled those who are victims of war, spending the end of year celebrations in darkness, cold and fear.

“At the start of this year, we need hope, just like the Earth needs rain,” Francis said.


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