VATICAN CITY, Jan 2 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people flocked to St Peter’s Basilica on Monday to pay their respects to former Pope Benedict XVI, whose remains were laid to rest ahead of his funeral. this week.
Benedict, a hero of conservative Catholics who longed for a return to a more traditional church and became the first pope in 600 years to step down, died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the secluded Vatican monastery where he had lived since 2013.
“I feel like he’s a grandfather to us,” Veronica Siegel, 16, a Catholic high school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is in Rome for a religious studies program, told Reuters in St. Peter’s Square after viewing the body. .
She said she had read one of Benedict’s books on Jesus for one of her courses.
“I know he’s in a better place because he was a holy man and led so well,” said her classmate Molly Foley, 16, from Atlanta, Georgia. The third girl in the group wore an American flag on her back.
Security was tight as visitors passed through several checkpoints before entering the basilica. Many stopped to pray after seeing the body or stayed to attend Mass in the side chapels.
The Vatican Police reported that 65,000 people applied on the first day.
Benedict’s body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments and placed on a simple bier, was moved in procession from the monastery shortly before dawn through the Vatican Gardens to a place in front of the main altar of Christendom’s largest church.
Two Swiss Guards stand out on either side of the body, which has no papal insignia or regalia, such as a crozier, a silver staff with a crucifix, or a pallium worn around the neck by archdiocesan bishops.
Both were present when Pope John Paul lay in his body in 2005.
It is not clear whether the shepherd’s cross or other objects he used will be buried with him, but the decision not to have them on public display seems to have been decided to underline that he was no longer pope when he died.
According to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, Benedict will be buried in the crypts under St. Peter’s Basilica, where he was first buried in 2005 before Pope John Paul II was moved to the basilica’s chapel in 2011, according to his wishes.
Italy’s leaders pay their respects
Before the church was opened to the public, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were the first foreigners to pay their respects.
Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict’s closest aide, sat in the first pew at the side of the body, joined by the family and physicians who cared for Benedict in his final days.
After a few hours they got up to pray in front of the body. Ganswein stayed to receive condolences from visitors.
“I want to come,” a woman surnamed Sri, visiting from Jakarta, Indonesia, told Reuters. “He was the Pope and I’m a Catholic,” she said, declining to give her last name.
Benedict will lie in state until Wednesday evening. His funeral will be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square with Pope Francis presiding. The Vatican said it would be a simple, solemn and quiet ceremony in keeping with Benedict’s wishes.
The Vatican has strict and elaborate rituals for what happens after the death of a reigning pope, but none of that happens for a former pope, so what happens in the next few days could become a model for future former popes.
Bruni said funeral details have not yet been finalized.
Although the number of visitors was high, there was no sign of the large crowds that came to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II as millions waited for hours to enter the basilica.
Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick McPhee
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