Heartfelt tribute to Benedict XVI

The sepulchral silence filled the Basilica of Saint Peter when, at nine in the morning, he opened the doors to the first faithful who came to pay their respects before the body of Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
02 January 2023 Monday 21:30
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Heartfelt tribute to Benedict XVI

The sepulchral silence filled the Basilica of Saint Peter when, at nine in the morning, he opened the doors to the first faithful who came to pay their respects before the body of Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. in the Vatican gardens. The mortal remains of the pope emeritus were transferred early in the morning from his residence to a catafalque in the central nave of the temple, at the foot of the altar of Confession, next to the famous canopy by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, for all those who wanted to say goodbye, pray or take pictures for the last time before the German pope who went down in history for having renounced his pontificate in a gesture that changed the course of the Church.

During the first day, until seven in the evening, 65,000 people paraded through the Basilica and around Saint Peter's Square, many more than expected by the Government delegation in Rome, which anticipated that there would be 35,000 in each of the three days of wake. The first in line were some Indian theology students who got up early – they had been waiting since five in the morning – to pay homage to what they considered the greatest theologian since Saint Augustine. When they entered, followed by some nuns, the highest Italian authorities were already there, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

The remains of Benedict XVI were taken in a vehicle, and then carried on shoulders to the funeral chapel, where a simple liturgy was celebrated. As had happened on Sunday in the chapel of the residence of Benedict XVI, the emeritus was dressed as Pope, with the red chasuble, the color of papal mourning, and the miter; but without the ornaments that would represent him as head of the government of the Church. Especially the papal pallium, the white woolen stole worn over the shoulders and which, with the Fisherman's ring, symbolizes one of the powers of the see of Peter.

In his hands he carried a rosary and the ring that he used during his emeritus years, while the shoes were not burgundy, which represents the martyr's blood, but black. The message she was intended to give was made very clear. Faced with the unknown of what the protocol would be like to show a retired pontiff, in the end the Holy See – or its circle of trust – has opted for this middle path. Two Swiss guards stood guarding the deceased in his colorful dress uniforms.

In front of him, all kinds of people filed past, from tourists who were in Rome passing through and took the opportunity to browse to devotees who crossed themselves after queuing for more than two hours. “I am studying Theology and he was the greatest theologian of recent times. From him we take the love for Jesus Christ and the love for the Church, which he expressed when he resigned, as well as his writings and his experiences as a pastor, ”said Chilean priest Felipe Brito as he left. “It has been a very strong emotion because Benedict represented a bridge between the Church of John Paul II and the Church of Pope Francis. I would have put it a little more horizontal so he could see it better. So we only see the feet,” said Sister Maria Teresa, an Italian nun.

Maurén, a Mexican who was in Rome for a meeting of young Catholics, wanted to live the experience after her parents told her a lot about Ratzinger. “It is an incredible opportunity because from what we heard he was a very good pope and we wanted to honor his memory,” he said. He was very nice, I feel that it is something that few people can experience and I have felt important to be part of this ”. Some members of the curia and cardinals could also be seen, such as the emeritus archbishop of Valencia, Antonio Cañizares, or the conservative cardinal Camillo Ruini, who at 91 years old prayed silently in his wheelchair.

The Vatican confirmed that Benedict XVI will be buried, following his wishes, in the former tomb of his admired John Paul II in the crypt of Saint Peter, before he was transferred to the basilica after his beatification in 2011. Now only to know the details of the funeral, on Thursday, which will be officiated by Pope Francis and will be a solemn ceremony, but it will not be a state funeral as he is not a practicing pontiff. For this reason, only the delegations from Germany, his native country, and Italy, the host country, have been officially invited. Other authorities who wish to do so must come on their own, as will be the case of the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, or King Felipe of Belgium. Italy expects the arrival of about 60,000 people by then.

La Zarzuela announced yesterday the attendance of Queen Sofía. She will be accompanied by the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, in charge of relations with the Church. As part of the diplomatic corps, the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, Isabel Celáa, has also been invited, and the president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, the Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona, ​​Juan José Omella, has confirmed her presence, who will officiate on Saturday a funeral mass at the Sagrada Família, consecrated by Benedict XVI in 2010.

“We will see what happens at the funeral, but my impression is that it is as if someone did not want to give too much importance to Joseph Ratzinger's funeral so as not to put him on the same level as Pope Francis. These funerals highlight the absence of any rule on a pontiff who has resigned", points out the editorial writer for Corriere della Sera, Massimo Franco, author of The Monastery, a reconstruction of the nine years of Benedict XVI's retirement through his confidences in the several visits he made to her in Mater Ecclesiae.

"He gave the impression of always going to another world, he seemed like a man made of glass that could be broken, extremely frail, but with great intellectual lucidity," recalls the journalist, who visited him for the last time a year and a half ago. In his opinion, the long queues of people in front of the basilica until the last minute are very surprising. "Something has remained in the memory, because he was a person who disappeared from the scene ten years ago."

The volume of participants, however, is not comparable to what was experienced after the death of John Paul II in 2005, when it was estimated that some four million people waited for hours to attend his wake. In the end, the Polish pope was around for almost 27 years, while his successor's pontificate lasted only almost eight, and he was already fired for the first time after he shocked the world by announcing that he had no strength to continue leading the Holy See. "Perhaps there was more emotion when he left the Vatican, but I remember him as a holy man," said Claudia, a Roman who was waiting in line in the center of the square, evoking the scene in which Ratzinger left in a helicopter. headed for the palace of Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the popes, which was his home until the renovations of Mater Ecclesiae were completed.

Everyone who wanted to enter St. Peter's Basilica had to go through heavy security checks. For the act, more than a thousand law enforcement officers were mobilized, a device similar to that of New Year's Eve. On the day of the funeral, an interdiction of the airspace over Saint Peter's Square is planned, confirmed the government delegate in Rome, Bruno Frattasi, who said that his objective was to "guarantee the safety of those who wish to pay their respects." Several health care units, ambulances and portable toilets have also been deployed. The surroundings of the Vatican were completely fenced off, and the interest in the event has led journalists from all over the world to come to Rome. Throughout the day, the workers were placing the chairs for the funeral ceremony.

Some of the faithful offered their condolences to the family that has cared for Benedict in the last years of his life, his faithful secretary, Georg Gänswein, his secretary, Sister Birgit Wansing, and the four consecrated lay women of the Memores Domini Institute, which belongs to the Communion and Liberation movement. , who have taken care of you and the housework. Gänswein, who was also his adviser and his bridge in recent years with Pope Francis, could not help but show his emotion by praying before his body. The historic personal secretary has written a book in which, according to its publisher, he promises to tell the truth about the mysteries, scandals and "slander" that darkened the reputation of the pope, who left in one of the most convulsive stages in the Vatican , after the theft of confidential documents that led to the Vatileaks case and that revealed the shadows of corruption and the battles in the heart of the Catholic Church.

“Keep walking, please don't stop,” Vatican workers, dressed in black, told the crowd after they stopped for a few seconds before the body of Benedict XVI. "Is beautiful. They have done very well to distinguish that he was not Pope. But I have seen a young man taking a selfie. He was not very respectful, ”Daniela, a woman who came from northern Italy, protested. The funeral chapel will be extended for another two days, this Tuesday and this Wednesday, to give time to pilgrims who want to arrive from other parts of the world, from seven in the morning to seven in the evening. Claudia, a Catholic from Modena, did not hesitate to travel especially for the occasion: “We had to come, it was an obligation, because it is fair to thank her for her efforts. He was a rational pope who protected the faith."