Thousands mourn Benedict XVI at funeral led by Pope Francis

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By Euronews  with AP
Pope Francis starts a funeral mass as the coffin of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is placed at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
Pope Francis starts a funeral mass as the coffin of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is placed at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.   -   Copyright  Antonio Calanni/Copyright {yr} The AP. All rights reserved

Bells tolled and the faithful applauded as pallbearers carried former pope Benedict XVI's cypress coffin out of the fog-shrouded St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and rested it before the altar. Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, bent down and kissed a book of the Gospels that was left open on the coffin.

Pope Francis, wearing the crimson vestments typical of papal funerals, then took his place and opened the ceremony with a prayer.

Heads of state and royalty, clergy from around the world and thousands of people flocked to the ceremony, despite Benedict’s requests for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral for a pope emeritus in modern times low-key.

Many hailed from Benedict’s native Bavaria and donned traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to guard against the morning chill.

“We came to pay homage to Benedict and wanted to be here today to say goodbye," said Raymond Mainar, who travelled from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good pope.”

Francis has praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” to other popes doing the same. The reigning pontiff, for his part, recently said he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions under which he too would resign.

After some 200,000 people paid their respects during three days of public viewing, authorities estimated 100,000 would attend Benedict's funeral, though it was not clear if that many did in the end.

Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other leaders took the Vatican up on its offer and come in a “private capacity.” They included several heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives. In addition, a host of patriarchs joined 125 cardinals in the seats at the side of the altar.

Early Thursday, the Vatican released the official history of Benedict's life, a short document in Latin that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with the coins and medallions minted during his papacy and his pallium stoles.

The document gave ample attention to Benedict's historic resignation and referred to him as “pope emeritus,” citing verbatim the Latin words he uttered on February 11th, 2013, when he announced he would retire.

The document, known as a “rogito” or deed, also cited his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat clergy sexual abuse “continually calling the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification.”

Francis didn’t dwell on Benedict’s specific legacy in his homily and only uttered his name once, in the final line, delivering instead a meditation on Jesus’ willingness to entrust himself to God’s will.