The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on display at 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 thousands marched to pay their respects to the pontiff who shocked the world when he retired ten years ago.

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 the body was brought in through a side door after Benedict’s remains, placed in a van, were transferred from the chapel to the monastery grounds where the increasingly 95-year-old former pontiff frail, 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 in a silent procession to the basilica. Some of the women reached out to touch the body respectfully.

Before the core worshipers were admitted to the basilica, prayers were intoned and a small cloud of incense was dropped close to the body, hands clasped on the chest.

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 before dawn, could pay their respects to the late pontiff, who took his retired from the papacy in 2013 to become 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, came from Venice on an overnight train to view the body of Benedict XVI.

“I wanted to pay tribute to Benoît because he had a key role in my life and my education. I arrived here around 7:30 p.m., having left Venice last night,” Tuccio said.

“When I was young, I took part in World Youth Days,” the pilgrim 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. That’s why I wanted to say goodbye today.”

Public viewing lasts 10 a.m. on Mondays in St. Peter’s Basilica. Twelve hours of viewing are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday before the funeral on Thursday morning, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, in Saint Peter’s Square.

Security officials expected at least 25,000 people to pass the body on the first day of the visit.

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. La Romaine arrived an hour before the doors opened and became emotional as she explained why she had come.

“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, “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,” Ferrante said. .

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 and left the basilica half an hour after it opened.

“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.”

He came to the Vatican to pray for Benedict when he was sick, “so I wanted to be here today to say goodbye to him. I think he and Francis were close, they cared about each other,” he said.

With a pipe organ and a gentle rendition of “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy” in Latin) in the background, ushers moved well-wishers at a steady pace down the central aisle of the basilica, then pushed them gently forward saying: in Italian, “avanti” (continue) to keep the pace steady. 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 saw 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.


Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.


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