VATICAN CITY – The Roman Catholic Church held Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in front of the fog-shrouded St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday with an extraordinary funeral presided over by his own successor, Francis, to end a strange era in the world. There was one final distinction. The modern Church in which two popes, one resigned and one in power, one conservative and one liberal, co-existed within the small circle of the Vatican.

“Benedict, faithful friend of the bridegroom,” Francis said in his homily, referring to Jesus’ role as husband in the Church, “may your joy be complete because you hear his voice, now and forever!”

It was Benedict’s only explicit mention of Francis, who died on Saturday at the age of 95, in a homily immediately said to be too polite by bemused supporters to clarify and celebrate the legacy of a pope who failed in what had become the touchstone for the conservatives. Church.

The unprecedented moment of a more reform-minded pope presiding over the final farewell of an Orthodox icon was a coda to a bizarre chapter in church history. The strangeness only raised curiosity about how the funeral would play out, and how Francis would tread a course between honoring Benedict’s request for a simple send-off and not offending the church’s conservative wing, which has long been critical of its late standard-bearer. Wanted a lot for.

Francis opted for a home that reflected his vision of the Church, and repeatedly cited his predecessor’s words to honor Benedict. Francis reflected the theologian’s core belief in placing Jesus at the center of life by focusing on how he placed himself in the hands of God.

Above all, Francis’ close aides said, the homily focused on the central role as a pope and Benedict’s, a priest, something Francis himself holds dear and above the rituals of the old Church, the so-called odors and bells, favored by conservatives. She goes

“The faithful of God, who gathered here, are now with him and entrust him with the life of the man who was his pastor,” Francis said.

Cardinal Michael Charney of Canada, a close adviser to Francis, said, “The Holy Father delivered a beautiful sermon, reflecting on the mission of a priest, in the closest imitation of Christ.” The Pope concluded by applying “this most beautiful spiritual portrait” of a devoted clergyman “wholeheartedly to his predecessor”, he said.

“So please don’t be discouraged for the lack of a eulogy or citation,” said Cardinal Charney. “It is for another time and place, not the Eucharist of Christian burial.”

Not everyone was satisfied with Francis’ approach, which Benedict’s supporters said at John Paul II’s funeral seemed trivial compared to Benedict’s own homily – before he was elected pope – of a larger life and legacy. A splendid and full-bodied tribute to the larger-than-life man who ran the church for more than a quarter of a century.

,Benedict will be entitled to the same class of funeral rites as John Paul II,” said Michael Heisman, a biographer and friend of Benedict, as he walked into the Vatican after the service. “I am a little sad that the ceremony itself, the sermon etc. was missing. The household was a bit standard. You could have given the same sermon to anyone: a cardinal, a bishop, or even the butcher in the neighborhood.”

He added that while Benedict “would have said at first, ‘I only want a simple funeral,'” he deserved more. But Benedict wouldn’t have been hurt, he said. “He was the most forgiving person,” Mr. Heisman said.

In some respects, the ceremony was the last papacy created by Benedict, who assumed the title of pope, and continued to wear his white robes long after he retired in 2013. His resignation was the first by a pope in six centuries, act in the context of a surprising legacy and precedent, and it overshadowed the rest of Benedict’s often troubled pontificate.

But the funeral, while small on papal pageantry, was much more than a memorial to a prominent cardinal.

The Sistine Chapel choir sings hymns. The smoke from the incense sticks mixed with the fog. The pages of an open book of the Gospels fluttered in the wind over the simple cypress casket containing his remains.

Cardinals dressed in special red robes for the burial of a supreme pontiff surrounded the casket, which sat on a large and ornate carpet at the bottom of the basilica’s steps. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Rey, Dean of the College of Cardinals, who celebrated the Requiem Mass, sprinkled the coffin with holy water.

The casket contained not just Benedict’s remains, but also many objects, including commemorative medals and coins, which lasted from 2005 to 2013. , a white woolen vestment worn around the neck that symbolizes the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of a bishop.

The crowd numbered in the thousands, though it failed to completely fill St. Peter’s Square and did not flow down the wide Via della Conciliazione as it did under Pope John Paul II, for whom Benedict served as head of the church. I served for a quarter of a century. The principled watchdog, died in 2005. So many believers came to John Paul’s funeral that the population of Rome essentially doubled. Heads of State or Government of more than 70 countries came. Royalty and leaders of other major religions filled the seats of honour.

The ceremony was attended by only two official delegations for the retiring Pope. The Italian delegation was led by President Sergio Mattarella. The delegation from Benedict’s native Germany was led by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Other countries attended in a private capacity, including the monarchs of Spain and Belgium and the presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Togo and San Marino, as well as the prime ministers of several other countries. President Biden, who is Catholic, did not attend, but the Holy See sent ambassador Joe Donnelly.

In the front rows and at the altar, 125 cardinals prayed in their red robes and caps. There are currently 224 cardinals in the College of Cardinals that will elect Francis’ successor. Benedict named 64 of these. His predecessor, John Paul II, named 49, while Francis has named 111 cardinals, a number expected to rise as he remains in office, raising the possibility that a conclave filled with his likes The selection will, when Francis dies or resigns, mold his church to continue his agenda of reform and opening up.

This made the funeral particularly poignant for the Conservatives, who saw Benedict as a guiding light, as it was an apparent end to his role as their leader.

Among the cardinals seated in the front rows were prelates, who were stripped of their offices and influence after Francis took office.

There was Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, whom Benedict appointed as his replacement as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and whom Francis later fired.

Near him sat Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a secretary of state often engrossed in Vatican scandals, who was also replaced by Francis.

Standing at the altar was Cardinal Robert Sarah, 77, from Guinea, a hero to Vatican conservatives and a leading candidate to fill Benedict’s shoes. In 2014, Francis handpicked Cardinal Sarah to run the Vatican department with liturgical oversight, but then quickly sidelined her, surrounding her with papal aides. The Pope eventually accepted his resignation in 2021.

In the front row was Benedict’s closest aide and longtime secretary, Archbishop Georges Gensevin, who has long caused consternation among Francis’ supporters, who suspect him of trying to harm the current pope.

During the highly choreographed Mass, none of the Orthodox bishops betrayed any dissent, but in the wider Conservative world, it was clear that not everyone liked the scaled-down service.

“It is just painful that this great and holy man, Joseph Ratzinger, was treated for the ages with such blatant disrespect by his successor,” said Rod Dreher, a staunch-right critic of Francis and staunch conservative who left the church. wrote Twitter. “Contempt, laid bare on a world stage.”

Benedict’s fans in the square ignored instructions in several languages ​​to “refrain from raising banners or flags” and held up a large white sheet reading “Santo Subito” – “Sainthood Now”.

This was a common practice during the funeral of John Paul II, who put the Polish pope on the fast track to sainthood, much to the chagrin of many critics, who called him to stop clerical sexual abuse during his long reign. Held responsible. Benedict has a much more complicated legacy on the issue, having taken significant action to force the church to confront the crisis, expelling hundreds of abusive priests, but failing to hold bishops accountable to protect abusers. also failed.

Benedict may never elicit the same widespread public call for sainthood as his predecessor, but he is deeply mourned by many Catholics.

Maria Lulik, a 37-year-old Polish shop assistant, said in the square, “I feel pain like I have lost my father.” “As a Pole, I obviously loved John Paul II, but Benedict was my spiritual guide, my moral compass.”

“Benedict was a role model for me long before he became Pope,” said the Rev. Joseph Edusi-Poku, a long-serving priest from Ghana. “And then he was humble enough to retire.”

That resignation filled the entire ceremony with an ethereal atmosphere.

“A Pope presides over the funeral of another Pope!” said a French bishop, Jean-Yves Riocreux. After the funeral and with no conclave to choose a successor, he said, “All the cardinals who were there – they go back, they have nothing to do.”

At the conclusion of Mass, pallbearers in black suits carried the coffin into St. Peter’s Basilica, stopping before Francis, who stood and placed his hands on it, closing his eyes for a final blessing and prayer.

Benedict’s casket was then placed inside a zinc coffin and then inside a wooden case. In accordance with Benedict’s wishes, he was laid to rest where his mentor, John Paul II, had gone before his beatification at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the step before sainthood.

The emeritus title that will likely define Benedict through history, and which made for an odd decade in church history and sowed tension in a polarized Vatican, followed him to the end.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Francis “bids a final farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict,” commending him to “God, our merciful and loving Father.”

Elisabetta Povolido Gaia Pianigiani Emma Bubola Contributed reporting from Rome.

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