Tens of thousands of people discover the body of Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his head resting on some crimson pillows, lay in St. Peter’s Basilica Monday as tens of thousands of people marched to pay their respects to the pope who shocked the world when he died a decade ago. retired.

What you need to know about Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral

On the eve of the first of three viewing days, Italian security officials had said at least 25,000 to 30,000 people would show up on Monday. But by mid-afternoon, about six hours after the doors of the basilica opened to the public, Vatican police estimated about 40,000 people had gathered near the body, the Holy See said.

At daybreak, 10 white-gloved papal lords—lay assistants to popes and papal houses—carried the body on a wooden stretcher covered in cloth 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 on Saturday from the chapel to the convent grounds where the still-95-year-old former pope, frail, died. Morning.

His longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and a handful of devoted lay people who served in Benedict’s household followed the van on foot for a few hundred yards in a silent procession to the basilica. Some women reached out to touch the body respectfully.

Before the basic believers were allowed to enter the basilica, prayers were recited and the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled the body with holy water and a puff of incense was released with the beer. Benoît’s hands were folded, a rosary on his fingers.

A little after 09:00 (08:00 GMT), the doors of the basilica opened for the public, some of whom had waited for hours in the moist air for sunrise, to pay their respects to the late pope, who retired from the papacy in 2013. became the first pope to do so in 600 years.

Loyal and curious, the audience hurried down the center aisle to pass the fabric-draped beer following the lines that snaked around St. Peter’s Square in the middle of the morning.

Benedict’s body was dressed in a miter, an episcopal headgear and a red cloak.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, said he came from Venice on an overnight train to see Benedict XVI’s body.

“I wanted to honor Benedict because he played a key role in my life and my upbringing,” Tuccio said.

“When I was young, I took part in the World Youth Days,” said the pilgrim, referring to the jamborees of young believers that were periodically organized and attended by popes. Tuccio added that he had studied theology and that “his pontificate accompanied me through my university years”.

“He was very important to me: to who I am, my way of thinking, my values,” Tuccio continued.

Among those who came to visit the basilica was Cardinal Walter Kasper, as well as Benedict, a German theologian. Kasper was head of the Vatican’s Office for Christian Unity during the papacy of Benedict XVI.

Benedict left a “significant mark” on theology and spirituality, as well as on the history of the papacy with his courage to abdicate, Kasper told The Associated Press.

Read more: Pope Benedict’s legacy is inseparable from his resignation, and not just because it was unprecedented

Why did Pope Benedict XVI resign?

“This resignation was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, a greatness because he saw that he could no longer face the challenges of the papacy,” said Kasper.

Kasper, who was one of the cardinals who elected Benedict as pope in 2005, added that the resignation decision gave “a more human view of the papacy: that the pope is a man and depends on his physical and mental strength.”

The public audience is set for Monday at 10 a.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday at noon, ahead of Thursday morning’s funeral, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square.

As Benedict wished, the funeral will be characterized by simplicity, the Vatican said when announcing the death on Saturday.

On Monday, the Vatican confirmed widespread funeral plans. In accordance with his wish, Benedict’s tomb will be in the crypt of the grotto below the basilica last used by Saint John Paul II, before the saint’s body was moved upstairs to the main basilica before his beatification in 2011, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told me.

On both sides of the square’s colonnade, spectators 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.

What is the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI?

“I think his most important legacy has taught us to be free,” she said. “He had a special intelligence to say what was essential in his faith and that was contagious” to the other believers. “What I thought about when he died was that I would like to be as free as he was.”

While venturing into the fact that the shy, bookworm German pastor and theologian and the current Argentine-born pope 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.” understands, can see that,” Ferrante said.

An American living in Rome called the opportunity to see the body “an incredible experience”. Mountain Butorac, 47, of Atlanta, said he arrived 90 minutes before dawn.

“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 like a grandfather to people who lived in the Vatican.”

With a soft rendition of “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy” in Ancient Greek) by an organ and choir in the background, ushers moved the benefactors at a steady pace down the aisle of the basilica, then gently pushed them forward, saying, in Italian, “avanti” (continue) to keep the pace steady. Someone left a red rose.

A few figures had a moment before the general public to pay their respects, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who has historically expressed her admiration for Benedict XVI’s conservative leanings.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella also came to see the body. The Vatican said only official delegations from two countries — Italy and Germany, Benedict XVI’s native country — were officially invited to the funeral, as the pope emeritus was no longer head of state.

Sister Regina Brand was among the mourners who came to the square before dawn.

“He’s a German pope and I’m from Germany,” she said. “And I’m here to express my gratitude and my love, and I want to pray for him and see him.”

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Trisha Thomas and Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.

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