Tens of thousands of Catholics from across the globe converged on St Peter’s Square in the Vatican to pay their final respects to former Pope Benedict XVI.
Benedict, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 95, was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, citing declining health. His resignation in 2013 sparked debate and discussion about the role and responsibilities of the papacy, as well as the circumstances under which a pope may choose to step down.
Leading the Catholic Church since his election in 2005, Benedict made the unusual decision to be called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI after his abdication, instead of reverting to his given name of Joseph Ratzinger. He also “continued to live in the Vatican” and “wear a white cassock”, said The Guardian.
Just as Benedict “made history during his life” he “will do so in death”, said Sky News. Today’s funeral was the first time a current pope, Pope Francis, had presided over the funeral of a former pope in more than two centuries.
An estimated 195,000 people filed past Benedict’s body as he lay in state for three days in the Vatican before the funeral.
However, the BBC noted that the funeral was “not on the same scale” as the last papal funeral, that of Pope John Paul II in 2005. Then, more than three million people descended on Rome, with half a million people attending the ceremony and hundreds of thousands more watching on screens around the city.
Benedict was not a sitting pope when he died, which may account for the lower attendance, but he was also “not viewed with the same affection” as his close friend John Paul. While Benedict is often regarded as a scholar and admired for his writings, he is thought to have lacked the charisma and “rock star appeal” of his predecessor, said the BBC.
Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born in 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria. Born to “pious” parents, Ratzinger was baptised just hours after his birth, said The Times.
His childhood was “deeply affected” by the rise of Nazism, said the paper. After moving to Austria in 1929, Ratzinger’s father spoke out against the Nazi party throughout the 1930s and was ostracised by the local community as a result. In 1939, Ratzinger was required to join the Hitler Youth while he was a seminarian, later a source of controversy during the early years of his papacy.
His experiences during the Second World War “strengthened his conviction that the Catholic Church held the answers to life’s deepest questions”, said The Times. In 1951 he was ordained alongside his brother, Georg.
Ratzinger was appointed by the Vatican as a cardinal three months after becoming archbishop of Munich in 1977, said The Times.
After the death of his long-time friend and predecessor Pope John Paul II in 2005, Ratzinger was elected to the papacy after just two days of voting and against the predicitions of most experts. At 78, he was the “oldest incoming pope since Clement XII in 1730 and only the second non-Italian in almost half a millennium”, said The Guardian.
Pope Benedict sitting in what has become known colloquially as the “popemobile”, designed to ensure he is visible to crowds wherever he goes. During his trips outside the Vatican, he is surrounded by members of his security dressed in civilian clothes, among which are the famed Swiss Guards, who were established in 1506.
The invitation from Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Pope Benedict XVI to make a state visit to the UK in 2010 sparked significant controversy. The visit took place amid widespread discontent with the Catholic Church’s handling of clerical abuse allegations, with some members of the British public calling for his visit to be cancelled.
Despite these challenges, Pope Benedict went on to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, making it the first state visit by a pope to the UK. Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982.
Pope Benedict’s funeral, which took place today, was attended by vast crowds of mourners, as well as European royals, thousands of cardinals, priests and bishops, and official delegations from Italy and Benedict’s native Germany.
Hundreds of thousands of mourners viewed the mortal remains of the former pope, which lay in state for three days in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.