Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, a day after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in his Vatican retreat.
The huge basilica will house the coffin of Benedict XVI from Monday. Thousands of worshipers are expected to turn up at the coffin on the first of the three days of the wake.
Benedict XVI, 95, died Saturday morning at the Vatican, where he had lived since his retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to resign, citing his growing frailty.
On Sunday, Benedict’s body lay on a burgundy coffin in the monastery chapel. He was dressed in a mitre, a bishop’s headdress, and a red cloak-like garment. A rosary was placed in his hand. Behind him, visible in photos released by the Vatican, was the altar of the chapel and a decorated Christmas tree.
Francis looked tired and sat with his head bowed as mass began on the first day of the year, an occasion the Catholic Church dedicates to the theme of peace.
He briefly stepped away from reading his homily, with its emphasis on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.
“Today we entrust to our Blessed Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to accompany him on his way from this world to God,” he said.
Francis later made further comments about the retired pontiff as he offered New Year greetings to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Referring to Mary, Francis said that “in these hours, we invoke her intercession, in particular for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who departed from this world yesterday morning.”
“Let us all unite together, with one heart and one soul, to give thanks to God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and of the Church,” Francis said, speaking from a window of the Apostolic Palace to pilgrims and tourists. below.
The square will be the setting for the funeral of Benedict XVI presided over by Francis on Thursday morning. That rite will be simple, the Vatican said, in accordance with the wishes of Benedict XVI, who for decades as a German cardinal served as guardian of the Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy before being elected pope in 2005.
In recent years, Francis has praised Benedict XVI’s surprising decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years and made it clear that he would consider such a step as an option for himself.
Hobbled by knee pain, Francis, 86, arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair on Sunday, before taking his place in a chair for the mass, which was being officiated by the Vatican’s secretary of state.
Francis, who has repeatedly criticized the war in Ukraine and its devastation, recalled those who are victims of war and spend the year-end holidays in darkness, cold and fear.
“At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the Earth needs rain,” Francis said in his homily.
Addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis cited the “intolerable” war in Ukraine, which began in February last year with attacks and invasion by Russia, and in other parts of the world.
However, Francis said, “let us not lose hope” that peace will prevail. “Throughout the world, in all peoples, a cry is raised, ‘no to war, no to rearmament’ but (that) the resources go to development, to health, to food, to education, to work ”.