Pope Francis paid a final tribute on Thursday to his predecessor Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday at the age of 95, during the funeral of the former German pontiff in the solemn setting of Saint Peter's Square, in the presence of 50,000 faithful to whom mixed heads of state and crowned heads.
"Blessed [...] may your joy be perfect in hearing the voice (of God, editor's note), definitively and forever!" launched the pope during his homily delivered from the altar overlooking the gigantic esplanade in front of the basilica.
Surrounded by five cardinals, Francis, who arrived in a wheelchair, faced the simple wooden coffin containing the remains of Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, on which was placed a copy of the Gospels. The ceremony, punctuated by prayers and songs, lasted about 1 hour 20 minutes.
The mass, of the Latin rite and in several languages, was concelebrated by more than 4,000 cardinals, bishops and priests, but its exceptional character resided in the presence of a pope at the funeral of his predecessor, a first in the recent history of the 'Church.
At the end of the ceremony, the coffin was transported inside the majestic Saint Peter's Basilica to be buried there in the crypt where his predecessor, John Paul II, rested until his beatification in 2011, when his coffin was moved.
Earlier, Pope Francis, standing and leaning on a cane, made a sign of the cross in front of the coffin, touched it briefly and then bowed his head in a final salute.
In the crowd, a group of faithful waved a banner with the inscription in Italian "Santosubito" ("Holy immediately"), a slogan chanted during the funeral of John Paul II to demand his immediate canonization.
Among the many heads of state and government present in the assembly was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a compatriot of the late pope. The bells rang at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) in several German cities, including Benedict XVI's birthplace in Bavaria, Marktl.
Before the ceremony, the faithful, including many priests and nuns, had patiently lined up to pass the security gates and enter the square surrounded by Bernini's colonnade. Some came with German and Bavarian, but also Argentinian flags. German worshipers hold a large banner saying “Thank you Benedict!”
“I consider Benedict XVI a bit like my father and therefore I could not miss this opportunity to pay tribute to him,” Cristina Grisanti, a 59-year-old Milanese who arrived at dawn, told AFP. She only deplores “the somewhat unpleasant cold” reigning over the majestic esplanade.
Benedikt Rothweiler, a 34-year-old German from Aachen, said he was very moved: “We are here to pay homage to him [...] We will no longer have a German pope”.
From Monday to Wednesday, nearly 200,000 faithful had already come to Saint Peter's Basilica to pray before the remains of the German theologian, who died on Saturday at the age of 95 and whose renunciation in 2013 surprised the whole world.
Medals and coins
In keeping with tradition, Benedict XVI's cypress coffin contains coins and medals minted during his pontificate, his pallium (liturgical vestment) as well as a text briefly describing his pontificate, placed in a metal cylinder.
Such an event is a first in the recent history of the Catholic Church, which has 1.3 billion faithful worldwide. In 1802, Pius VII had celebrated the funeral of Pius VI, who had died in exile in France three years earlier, but the latter had not renounced his charge.
The death of Benedict XVI puts an end to ten years of cohabitation between two men in white in the Vatican, unheard of in the two thousand year history of the Church.
A brilliant professor of theology, Joseph Ratzinger, a reserved intellectual not at ease with the media and crowds, was for a quarter of a century the strict guardian of the dogma of the Church in Rome at the head of the Congregation for doctrine of the faith before being elected pope in 2005.
His pontificate was marked by multiple crises, such as the Vatileaks scandal in 2012, which exposed a vast network of corruption in the Vatican.
He had been implicated in early 2022 by a report in Germany on his handling of sexual violence when he was Archbishop of Munich. He then came out of his silence to ask for “pardon” but assured that he had never covered up a child criminal.