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Thousands attend funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square

05 January 2023


Pope Francis waits to receive the coffin at the funeral in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Thursday morning

Pope Francis waits to receive the coffin at the funeral in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Thursday morning

THE funeral mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was concelebrated by 125 cardinals in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Thursday morning. Pope Francis presided and preached, although, owing to his state of health, the chief concelebrant was Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Pope and the cardinals were joined by hundreds of priests.

It was the first time that a pope has presided at the funeral of a pope emeritus. Pope Benedict, who abdicated in 2013, died, aged 95, on New Year’s Eve (News, 31 December 2022).

St Peter’s Square was still shrouded in the morning mist as thousands were gathered for the open-air liturgy. Estimated numbers for the congregation ranged from 50,000 to 65,000.

In his homily, Pope Francis spoke of the qualities of a pastor who acts according to the example of Jesus. “Like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened,” he said.

He also reflected on the Gospel, Luke 23.39-46, in particular the final words “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

These, Pope Francis said, reflected Christ’s life of “ceaseless self-entrustment into the hands of his Father”.

The former Pope was mentioned by name in the homily only at the very end, when Pope Francis said: “Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and for ever.”

A long silence followed.

The liturgy was based on the Rite of Christian Burial of a Supreme Pontiff, with some modifications, including the removal of a supplication for the diocese of Rome, to reflect the fact that Benedict’s pontificate had ended before his death.

A papal funeral usually brings foreign political leaders to Rome, not least because a pope is head of state of Vatican City. The funeral mass for Pope Benedict’s predecessor in 2005, Pope John Paul II, was attended by heads of state or government from more than 70 countries. The future Pope Benedict, then still for a few days Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave the homily.

Because Pope Benedict’s abdication meant that he ceased to be a head of state, the official government delegations at Thursday morning’s service came only from Italy and his native Germany. But BBC News reported that other dignitaries attended in a private capacity, including the King and Queen of Belgium.

The Anglican Communion was represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Personal Representative to the Holy See, the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Most Revd Ian Ernest; the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid; and a former co-secretary of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill.

Bishop Hamid described the funeral in a blogpost on Thursday afternoon. “There is no denying the range of views about Pope Benedict,” he wrote, but “at his simple, dignified funeral such differences were put aside; we were all aware that we had gathered to commend a human being, like us prone to failings and error, to God our loving and merciful Father.”

He reported that he had spoken briefly to Pope Francis, and had conveyed condolences from the diocese in Europe.

On Thursday morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Twitter: “We give thanks today for the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. May his legacy of steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus continue to inspire all Christians.”

The Archbishop was one of several religious leaders who in the days after Pope Benedict’s death had paid tribute to his contribution to theology (News, 3 January).

The former RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, attended the funeral. In November, Cardinal Zen was fined for being a trustee of a fund to support people arrested in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong (News, 2 December 2022).

The Hong Kong newspaper The Standard reported that Cardinal Zen had been granted permission to travel for the funeral by a court on Tuesday. His passport had been confiscated as part of bail conditions after his arrest in May 2022 (News, 20 May 2022).

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