Mourners poured into Saint Peters Square for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to pay their final respects to the German theologian and attend a rare requiem mass for the pontiff.
Bells tolled on Thursday and the crowd applauded as pallbearers carried Benedicts cypress coffin out of the basilica and rested it before the altar in the piazza, as red-robed cardinals looked on.
Heads of state and royalty, clergy from around the world and thousands of worshippers flocked to the Vatican, despite Benedicts requests for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral of a pope emeritus in modern times low-key.
Many mourners hailed from Benedicts native Bavaria and donned traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to guard against the morning chill.
“We came to pay homage to Benedict and wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Mainar, who travelled from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He’s a very good pope.”
Elder Joseph Ratzinger, who died December 31 at the age of 95, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century and has dedicated his life to defending the Church doctrine.
But he will go down in history for an extraordinary act of revolution that changed the future of the papacy: he retired, the first pope in six centuries to do so.
Pope Francis praised Benedict’s courage to resign, saying it “opens the door” for other popes to do the same.
For his part, Francis recently said he had left written instructions outlining the terms under which he would also resign.
Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other heads of state and government accepted the Vatican’s offer and came as “private”.
They include several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two royal delegations.
Early Thursday morning, the Vatican released the official story of Benedict’s life, a short Latin document that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with coins and medals minted during his pontificate and his pallium cords.
The document pays close attention to Benedict XVI’s historic resignation and calls him “Pope emeritus”, quoting verbatim from the Latin words he said on February 11, 2013, when he announced it.
The document, known as the “rogito” or deed, also cites his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews, and his efforts to dispel Addressing the issue of clerical sexual abuse “constantly calls the church to conversion, prayer, penance, and purification”.
Benedicts close confidants were also in attendance, and the former popes longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, bent down and kissed a book of the gospels that was left open on the coffin before the ceremony began.
Matteo Colonna, a 20-year-old seminarian from Teramo, Italy, said he came in part because of the historic nature of the funeral – but also because it had personal resonance for him.
“The first spark of my vocation started under the pontificate of Benedict, but then it became even stronger under Pope Francis,” Colonna said, while sitting in prayer in St Peters Square at dawn.
“I see a continuity between these two popes and the fact that today, Francis is celebrating the funeral in Benedicts memory is an historical event.”
Ratzingers legacy During St John Paul IIs quarter-century as pope, Ratzinger spearheaded a crackdown on dissent as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, taking action against the left-leaning liberation theology that spread in Latin America in the 1970s and against dissenting theologians and nuns who did not toe the Vatican`s hard line on matters like sexual morals.
His legacy was marred by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, even though he recognised earlier than most the “filth” of priests who raped children, and actually laid the groundwork for the Holy See to punish them.
As cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping ecclesiastical legislation that resulted in the ordination of 848 priests between 2004 and 2014, almost his pontificate with one year each.
But survivors of abuse have always blamed him for the crisis, for failing to sanction any bishops who moved abusers, refusing to authorize sex crime reports to police and identifies him as the embodiment of the clerical system that has long defended the organization from its victims.
Mike McDonnell, of the SNAP group of US sexual abuse survivors, said that even if Benedict XVI had passed new canon laws, he could have done more to influence John. Paul to take strong action.
Referring to Benedict’s nickname “God’s Rottweiler,” he said: “You know, in our opinion, it’s a dog that barks without biting. Sure, it can do it, more than that.
A group representing survivors of German clerical abuse has called on German officials attending Benedict XVI’s funeral to ask the Vatican to take more action against sexual abuse.
Eckiger Tisch urged German leaders to ask Pope Francis to enact “universal church law” that provides for zero tolerance for clerical abuse.
The funeral rite itself is modeled after the rule used for deceased popes, but with some modifications, since Benedict was not the reigning pope when he died.
After Mass, Benedict’s cypress sarcophagus was placed inside a zinc casket, then an oak casket outside before being buried in the crypt in the cave below the Basilica. St. Peter’s Street, which was formerly the tomb of Saint John Paul II before the burial.
Although Thursday’s Mass was unusual, it had precedent: in 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in St Peter’s Basilica of his predecessor, Pius VI, who died in the process, exiled in France in 1799.