Pope Francis presides over funeral of predecessor Benedict
VATICAN CITY — To the sound of tolling bells, 12 pallbearers carried the wooden coffin of Pope Benedict out of St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday and placed it before thousands of faithful gathered in the square for his funeral.
Applause broke out across the vast, cobbled esplanade, which was shrouded in mist, in a sign of respect for Benedict, a hero to Roman Catholic conservatives who shocked the world by resigning nearly a decade ago.
Pope Francis arrived in the square in a wheelchair to preside over the service. Troubled by a bad knee, the pontiff sat in a chair looking down on the coffin, slightly hunched and glum-faced as choirs sung in Latin.
Clergy from around the world, a handful of heads of state and thousands of faithful attended the outdoor ceremony as the sun slowly broke through the fog.
More than 1,000 Italian security personnel were called up to help safeguard the event, and air space around the tiny Holy See has been closed off for the day. Italy ordered that flags around the country be flown at half staff.
Among those attending the funeral were Germans in traditional Bavarian outfits carrying flags and standards of the area of Germany where Benedict was born.
Benedict, a world renowned theologian, died at 95 on Saturday in a monastery within the Vatican gardens where he moved after becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to stand down, opening the way for the election of Pope Francis, who has proved a more reformist, hands-on leader.
“Even though at our age we were just children when he was pope, he left his mark,” Xavier Mora, 24, a Spaniard who is studying for the priesthood in Rome, told Reuters as he approached the square with two other seminarians.
“We have been studying his theology for three years and even though we did not know him personally we have great affection and esteem for him,” he said.
The lying-in-state ended on Wednesday evening and the body was put into a plain cypress wood coffin ready for the funeral. A one-page account of Benedict’s papacy, along with other items, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, were also tucked into the coffin.
The three-page account of his life and papacy, written in Latin, says he “fought with firmness” against sexual abuse by clergy in the Church.
While many leading figures have praised Benedict since his death, criticism has also been aired, including by victims of clergy sexual abuse, who have accused him of seeking to protect the Church at all costs.
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