Pope Francis has joined pilgrims in St Peter’s Square to preside over the funeral of his predecessor, who resigned from the papacy in 2013.
The dome of St Peter’s basilica at the Vatican was shrouded in mist as the cypress-wood coffin containing Pope Benedict XVI’s body was brought out and placed on the steps.
There was applause from the faithful who had gathered for the funeral.
Benedict was then interred in a tomb beneath the basilica.
Clergy from around the world had come – cardinals in red vestments, nuns and monks in their dark robes.
Pope Francis was brought out on to the dais in a wheelchair.
Latin chants sung by the Sistine Chapel choir echoed across the square. The mood was solemn and subdued.
Daniele, a teacher, who had met the former pontiff at a church in Rome, told me the weather matched the occasion. “The fog represents the mystery of Pope Benedict, the mystery of death and life.”
During the Mass, concelebrated by cardinals, bishops and priests, Pope Francis spoke of “wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years”.
“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom,” he said referring to Jesus, “may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever.”
Some 50,000 mourners came to the funeral, according to police. Official delegations were there from Italy and from former Pope Benedict’s home country of Germany. Other leaders, including the king and queen of Belgium attended in a private capacity.
Benedict’s death brings to an end the era of a pope and a former pope living side by side in the Vatican – an unprecedented situation brought about by Benedict’s resignation almost a decade ago.
In February 2013, I stood watching in St Peter’s Square as he flew away from the Vatican in a helicopter, at the end of his pontificate.
The ceremonies surrounding his death have been simpler than those for a sitting pope.
Over the past few days, some 200,000 people came to the Vatican to pay their respects to the former pontiff, as he lay in state in front of the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica.
On the day before the funeral, I joined the long line of visitors and mourners queuing to view his body. Dressed in red and gold vestments, he had a rosary clasped in his white, waxy hands.
There was no display of usual papal regalia like the silver staff, a sign that he was no longer Pope when he died.
But in line with tradition, a lead tube containing an account of Benedict’s papacy, as well as other items, including Vatican coins minted during his reign, were placed in the coffin.
At the end of the service, the choir sang “May the angels lead you into paradise.” Pope Francis placed his hand on the wooden coffin in a final prayer, before it was carried away, to be sealed and placed in another coffin of zinc and an outer one of wood.
It was buried in the crypt under St Peter’s Basilica, where Pope John Paul II was originally interred in 2005 before his body was moved up to a chapel, after his beatification.
While many leading figures have praised Benedict since his death – paying tribute to his theological studies – there has also been criticism, particularly by victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
The Snap Survivors network said the former pope “virtually ignored the burning problem of clergy sexual abuse during his tenure in office”.
“In his more than 25 years as the world’s most influential religious figure, Pope Benedict XVI fell short in protecting children and adults around the world.”
In St Peter’s Square, feelings about the former pope were mixed. Gaia from Sardinia said that while Benedict had been “a very good pope, I prefer Pope Francis. I think that he’s closer to people in 2023”.
Simona from Monza in northern Italy told me she was concerned that Francis might follow Benedict’s example and retire.
Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent of the Catholic magazine The Tablet, said Francis now faced a new moment in his pontificate but he expected him to continue his pace of reform within the Church.
“The death of Benedict does leave it open for Francis to step down if he wishes but I wouldn’t bet on it because this Pope really has a lot to accomplish in terms of reforms.