Pope Francis honors Benedict XVI during funeral

Pope Francis honors Benedict XVI during funeral

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VATICAN CITY — For the first time in its modern history, the Catholic Church buried a retired pope, after a bare and solemn ceremony Thursday that included a final, indelible gesture: Pope Francis bowed his head and placed his hand on the pope’s coffin. Emeritus Benedict XVI before he took himself.

The Requiem Mass, performed as a heavy fog lifted, used a mix of ancient rituals and new precedents to pay tribute to a figure who transformed the papacy with his decision 10 years ago to abdicate.

The ceremony lacked the noise, color, grief and even outbursts of joy that marked the last papal funeral, John Paul II’s, in 2005. Benedict drew 50,000 people – a sixth of that crowd. It took 90 minutes, about half. He showed the profound difference between what it means to die as a beloved sitting pope versus as a retired and controversial one.

Live updates of the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI

But the funeral was fascinating for the juxtaposition of two men, Benedict and Francis, one to be honored and the other to do the honoring, one who died on Saturday aged 95 and the other who, at 86, is already one of the oldest popes. in history. . On Thursday, the men who had lived side by side for 10 years were again only 15 meters apart, with Francis – wheeled to the altar in a wheelchair – seated in front of a cypress coffin that carried his predecessor.

“Now we say our last farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict and recommend him to God,” Francis said.

The funeral gave the church a final moment to reflect on one of its most powerful and polarizing conservatives — someone who shaped the faith with his moral certainty. As pope, he prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, appointed 84 cardinals and made 24 trips abroad. But he built his reputation above all by steadfastly defending the church’s core teachings, even when they were unpopular among practicing Catholics, a method Francis has sought to tone down.

Catholics pay their respects to Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Basilica

It was only because of Benedict’s historic abdication that Francis had the opportunity to preside over the ceremony for his predecessor. Francis delivered a sermon steeped in verse, devoid of personal touch, not referring to his predecessor by name until the last sentence, when he said: “Benedict … may your joy be full when you hear his voice.”

Francis’ approach marked a marked departure from the sermon at the last papal funeral, given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger 10 days before he was elected Benedict. Ratzinger then weaved verse and biography, describing John Paul II’s teenage years working in a chemical factory, his discoveries as a young priest and his reign as pontiff, when he “tried to meet everyone.” . When Ratzinger finished, the crowd in St. Peter’s Square roared, some chanting, “St. Holy!”

On Thursday, when Francis finished, there was silence.

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George Weigel, a papal biographer, noted that homilies at Catholic funerals usually do not feel like eulogies, but instead should be forward-looking—to “the expectation of eternal life.” Throughout his pontificate, Francis has routinely put the Gospel at the center of his sermons, including canonizations.

However, there was criticism from some traditionalist circles. Rod Dreher, an American commentator who converted to Orthodoxy but shares ideological ground with Catholic traditionalists, called the sermon “mean-spirited and ungenerous.” It was short of what the moment called for, said Dreher, who attended the funeral.

Others said Francis had rightly honored a predecessor who preferred to focus on the church rather than himself.

“It is completely in Benedict’s spirit and it is right that his wishes be respected,” Cardinal Wim Eijk, a conservative who held Benedict in high regard, said in an interview with The Washington Post after the funeral.

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Although the Vatican had predicted that Benedict’s funeral would be “simple,” it took many of the cues offered by other popes: For three days this week, he lay in state for public visitation. Several signs from his pope, as well as a written text describing his life, reign and resignation, were enclosed in his coffin. On the Thursday after the funeral, he received a final ritual burial reserved for popes, with his casket encased in zinc and then sealed in an oak outer casket.

But because Benedict was not a sitting pope, there will be no immediate conclave or intrigue. The church will waive the usual nine-day mourning period. In passages during the funeral, Benedict was referred to as “pope emeritus”. There was an additional prayer for “Our Holy Father, Pope Francis.”

The crowd included several thousand clergy, more than 120 cardinals, European heads of state and pilgrims from all over the world. Some waved the flags of Bavaria, the part of Germany where Benedict was born, baptized and ordained. Some attendees said they had been personally touched by Benedict’s teachings or shared his vision for the church.

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“We are here for Benedict,” said Tomasz Kotwicki, 58, a doctor from Poland. He said that Francis, during the ceremony, looked “very tired”.

“Like Benedict did in 2013” before he resigned, he said.

That abdication, and the subsequent election of Francis, led to a ten-year coexistence, both warm and uneasy. Francis likened Benedict’s presence to “a wise grandfather at home,” and Benedict made it clear that the church had only one authority — Francis. But because of the profound differences in their approaches, they were sometimes seen as commanding different poles of the church.

In 2021, Francis revoked Benedict’s signature liturgical decision placing restrictions on the Old Latin Mass, a rite favored by some traditionalists. In an interview published this week by a German newspaper, Benedict’s secretary and longtime confidant Georg Gänswein called that decision a “cut” to the pontiff emeritus that caused “pain in his heart.”

These Americans are committed to the old Latin Mass, they are also at odds with Pope Francis.

Church historian Alberto Melloni said that after Benedict’s funeral, “Pope Francis starts all over again.” But it is unclear whether it gets harder or easier. Benedict, within moments, broke his vow of silence and contradicted Francis, creating headaches for the church. But some church watchers saw Benedict, who was generally respectable, as preventing conservative dissent from reaching a boil.

With various comments over the years, Francis has indicated that he is open to following Benedict’s resignation by eventually withdrawing, in case his health deteriorates. This does not seem imminent; he keeps a fast schedule. Speculation about his future has risen from time to time – especially since knee pain last year limited his movement – but there has long been an assumption among Vatican watchers that he would not retire with Benedict still alive, so that to avoid a scenario with two ex-popes. Now, for the first time in his pontificate, there are zero ex-popes.

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“His hands are not so tied anymore,” Melloni said. “He will finally be allowed to choose what to do with his future.”

The main thing that could prevent a resignation would be an escalation of dissent so fierce that it calls into question whether the decision was made freely.

On Thursday, after Francis placed his hand on Benedict’s coffin, 12 pallbearers carried it back to St. Peter’s Basilica, where it was soon after encased in its two extra layers and buried in caves. Benedict’s remains were placed in the same place that once held John Paul II, before his body was exhumed in 2011 and transported to the upper floor of the basilica.

The Vatican released the text of the document that was buried with Benedict in a protective cylinder. The text represents the church’s narrative about the 265th pope, describing his “broad and deep” biblical and theological knowledge and his promotion of dialogue with other religions. And it paints a picture of the stunning morning in 2013, when Benedict declared in Latin that he no longer had “the strength of mind or body” for the job.

The document says of Benedict: “His memory remains in the heart of the Church and of all humanity.”

Main photo from the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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