Tens of thousands of people discover the body of Benedict XVI in the Vatican
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his head resting on a pair of crimson pillows, lay in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday as tens of thousands lined up to pay their respects to the pontiff who shocked the world by retiring a decade ago.
On the eve of the first of three viewing days, Italian security officials had said at least 25,000 to 30,000 people would come on Monday. But by mid-afternoon, about six hours after the basilica’s doors opened to the public, Vatican police estimated around 40,000 people had filed near the body, the Holy See said.
At dawn, 10 white-gloved papal gentlemen – lay assistants to pontiffs and papal households – carried the body on a wooden stretcher covered in fabric after it arrived at the basilica to its resting place in front of the altar. main building under Bernini’s imposing bronze canopy. .
A Swiss Guard saluted as Benedict’s body was brought in through a side door after being transferred to a van from the monastery chapel where the increasingly frail 95-year-old former pontiff died on Saturday morning.
His longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and a handful of consecrated lay people who served in Benedict’s household, followed the van on foot for a few hundred meters in a silent procession to the basilica. Some of the women reached out to touch the body respectfully.
Before the basic faithful were allowed to enter the basilica, prayers were recited and the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled the body with holy water and a small cloud of incense was released near the beer. Benoît’s hands were joined, a rosary around his fingers.
Just after 9 a.m. (0800 GMT), the doors of the basilica opened so that the public, some of whom had waited for hours in the humidity of dawn, could pay their respects to the late pontiff, who stood removed from the papacy in 2013 – the first pope to do so in 600 years.
Loyal and curious, the public walked briskly up the central aisle to pass in front of the fabric-draped beer after queuing that snaked around St. Peter’s Square in the middle of the morning.
Benedict’s body was clad in a miter, a bishop’s pointed headgear, and a red cloak.
Filippo Tuccio, 35, said he came from Venice on an overnight train to see the body of Benedict XVI.
“I wanted to pay tribute to Benedict because he played a key role in my life and my upbringing,” Tuccio said.
“When I was young, I took part in World Youth Days,” he said, referring to the jamborees of young faithful organized periodically and attended by pontiffs. Tuccio added that he had studied theology and that “his pontificate accompanied me during my university years”.
“He was very important to me: for who I am, my way of thinking, my values,” Tuccio continued.
Among those who came to see the basilica was Cardinal Walter Kasper, as was Benedict, a German theologian. Kasper served as head of the Vatican’s Christian Unity Office during Benedict XVI’s papacy.
Benedict left a “significant mark” on theology and spirituality, but also on the history of the papacy with his courage to stand down, Kasper told The Associated Press.
“This resignation was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, a greatness because he saw that he was no longer up to the challenges of being pope,” Kasper said.
Kasper, who was among the cardinals who elected Benedict to the papacy in 2005, added that the resignation gave “a more human view of the papacy: that the pope is a man and depends on his physical and mental strength.”
The public audience was set for 10 a.m. on Monday and 12 p.m. each on Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday morning’s funeral, which will be conducted by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square.
As Benedict wished, the funeral will be marked by simplicity, the Vatican said when announcing the death on Saturday.
On Monday, workers were setting up an altar in the square for the funeral mass. Rows of chairs were also laid out for worshipers wishing to attend the funeral. Authorities said they expected around 60,000 people to attend the mass.
On Monday, the Vatican confirmed widely reported burial plans. In accordance with his wishes, Benedict’s tomb will be in the crypt of the grotto below the basilica which was last used by Saint John Paul II, before the saint’s body was moved upstairs into the main basilica before his beatification in 2011, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
On both sides of the square’s colonnade, onlookers followed the usual security measures required for tourists entering the basilica – passing through metal detectors and screening bags through an X-ray machine.
Marina Ferrante, 62, was one of them.
“I think his main legacy taught us to be free,” she said. “He had a particular intelligence to say what was essential in his faith and that was contagious” for the other faithful. “The thing I thought about when he died was that I would like to be as free as he was.”
While venturing on the fact that the shy, bookworm German clergyman and theologian and the current Argentinian-born pontiff had different temperaments, Ferrante said: “I believe there is a continuity between him and Pope Francis and anyone who understands the true relationship between them and Christ can see that. ”
An American who lives in Rome called the opportunity to see the body “an incredible experience”. Mountain Butorac, 47, from Atlanta, said he arrived 90 minutes before dawn.
“I loved Benedict, I loved him as a cardinal (Joseph Ratzinger), when he was elected pope and also after his retirement,” Butorac said. “I think he was kind of a grandfather to people living in the Vatican.”
With a pipe organ and a gentle rendition of “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy” in ancient Greek) in the background, ushers moved well-wishers at a steady pace down the central aisle of the basilica. Someone left a red rose.
A few figures had a moment in front of the general public to pay their respects, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who in the past has professed her admiration for Benedict XVI’s conservative leanings.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella also came to view the body. The Vatican said only official delegations from two nations – Italy and Benedict XVI’s native Germany – had been officially invited to the funeral, since the pope emeritus was no longer head of state.
Sister Regina Brand was among the mourners who came to the square before dawn.
“He’s a German pope and I’m from Germany,” she said. “And I’m here to express my gratitude and my love, and I want to pray for him and see him.”
Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.
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