About 200,000 people paid their respects to Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, during the three days his body lay in state in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican officials said Wednesday evening.
Some came from abroad especially to honor his memory, while others took the opportunity to come to St. Peter’s during their holidays in Rome. Benedict, who resigned in 2013, the first pope to do so in six centuries, died Saturday and will be buried Thursday.
“It was wonderful to see him,” says Stefania Isaila, 42, who flew from Romania to attend Benedict’s funeral with a friend. “He seemed happy to be with God, the meeting he’s always talked about.”
Mrs. Isaila entered the basilica at 7 a.m., one of the first to do so on Wednesday, before large queues formed, and she stayed to attend a mass in honor of Benedict. She was one of 60,000 people who came to St. Peter’s on Wednesday alone. While John Paul II was the pope she grew up with, Mrs. Isaila said, “I really loved Benedict.”
“I appreciated his clarity of thought and deep faith,” she said as she sat in the sun on steps outside an area cordoned off for security checks. “His sensitivity was harder to understand, but he felt very close to me.”
According to the Vatican, between 65,000 and 70,000 people viewed his body Monday and Tuesday. Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni came to pay their respects to the former pope on Monday. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary sat in prayer before Benedict’s body.
The faithful continued to stream to Benedict’s side on Wednesday. “We came to say one last goodbye,” said Corrado Luigi, 76, a Rome pensioner who also attended John Paul II’s funeral in 2005.
“We came for a different reason, but we also go to Benedict,” says Patrizia Berrettini, 50, who planned a tour of the Vatican with her family months ago. “We owe it to him. Standing in line is not a sacrifice for us.”
Benedict succeeded John Paul II, who died after years of serious illness and declining health. When Benedict stepped down in 2013, he had ruled for nearly eight years during a difficult time for the Church, one marked by turmoil.
His successor, Pope Francis, opened his remarks on Wednesday at his weekly general audience at the Vatican, a stone’s throw from the basilica where Benedict lay in state, with a reference to the faithful lining up outside to pay their respects.
Francis praised his predecessor, known for his scientific intellect, as a “master of catechesis.” The crowd in the hall applauded.
“His sharp and gentle thought was not self-referential, but ecclesial, always wanting to accompany us in the encounter with Jesus,” Francis added.
After 7 p.m. on Wednesday, when viewing closed to the public, Vatican officials were ordered to place Benedict’s body in a cypress-wood coffin for public burial.
The box will also contain commemorative medals and coins minted during Benedict’s papacy, an account written in Latin of his time as pope, and his pallium stoles — woolen robes worn around the neck by popes to reflect their role as shepherds. of their herds.
On Thursday morning, his coffin will be carried in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for a public mass, with tens of thousands expected to attend.
Only Italy and Benedict’s native Germany will send official delegations, as he was no longer a reigning pope when he died. Representatives of other countries will participate in a personal capacity, including the presidents of Poland and Hungary and the monarchs of Spain and Belgium.
Because he was no longer pope at his death, Benedict was not laid out in his papal regalia, such as the pallium. But the liturgy for his funeral will largely resemble that of a sitting pope, with some changes to the prayers, according to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
After the funeral, Vatican officials will place his cypress coffin inside another one made of zinc and then into a second wooden coffin. Benedict will then be buried, according to his wish, in the caves below the basilica, a crypt once occupied by John Paul II. John Paul was moved in 2011 when he was beatified in a first step towards sainthood.