The sky over St. Peter’s Square is blue and pink on Monday morning. As if Rome had once again become particularly beautiful to this day. Four US seminarians are already at the entrance to the basilica just before 8am. You are among the first to honor Pope Benedict XVI, who died on New Year’s Eve. I want to pay the last respects. The queue is long, it goes around the entire square. The body of Pope Emeritus, who died at the age of 95, has been in St. Peter’s Basilica since Monday morning.
Seminarians bring their prayer books with them and pass the time with stories and prayers, which are interrupted by the sound of a lawn mower. Beyond the queue, Vatican officials are preparing St. Peter’s Square for Wednesday’s general audience and Thursday’s funeral. Between the cobblestones, the grass grew during the winter. Chairs are placed, the white canopy in the courtyard of the basilica is erected. “Pope Benedict was a spiritual leader for me,” says Greg, from Wisconsin. “A guardian of the church,” adds Brendan.
The papal insignia of power is missing
At 9am, the police push the wooden barriers aside, and at that moment, a small nun with a crutch steps forward. “Please slow down. Piano, piano!” says a policeman. Before entering, the view goes up again to the facade of the Peterskirche. Here, on the central loggia, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI appeared. in April 2005, he happily waved to the people. He wore a red cloak and the pallium over his shoulders as a sign of papal power.
The surprising resignation took place in February 2013, an event of the century. A new era for the Catholic Church has begun. In addition to a legitimate incumbent, Francis, elected in March, there was now also a pope emeritus who has discarded almost all the insignia of power: his fishing ring and the pallium. However, Benedict XVI still dressed in white and allowed himself to be called “Holy Father”.
The crowd enters St. Peter’s Basilica, whose interior looks golden and powerful. It’s quiet, the smell of incense rises. The crowd advances to Bernini’s canopy at a brisk pace, then falters. Smartphones and tablets are raised to take pictures of the pope lying in the state, which cannot be seen with the naked eye because of the crowd. Only two Swiss Guards with helmets and halberds can be seen above. The Vatican gendarmes are slowly letting people out in front. Benedict XVI lies there, his lifeless body. Agitation is forgotten. Faced with a dead person, time suddenly stops.
Her black leather shoes are shown first. The body is wrapped in a red cloak as a sign of mourning. The head, slightly tilted to the right, rests on two pillows and wears the miter, the bishop’s hat. His thin fingers are wrapped in a rosary and hold a cross. The pallium and crosier, papal insignia of power, were Benedict XVI. not attached as Pope Emeritus.
The protocol had to be invented first
Georg Gänswein, his private secretary, the four Memores Domini, Ratzinger’s maid and his secretary Birgit Wansing, that is, Benedikt’s closest circle, say goodbye to the dead body at this time. In the morning they accompanied the transfer of the body in a van from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to St. Peter’s Basilica and then prayed. Those who pass by the corpse now cross themselves, a little to the side two nuns kneel. The stewards are a little more merciful towards them and only send the praying people away after a few minutes.
How do you bury a retired pope? That is the question most asked in the Vatican now ahead of Thursday’s funeral, which will be followed by no conclave, no assembly of cardinals, no power struggle and no white smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel chimney. All this happened after the resignation of Benedict XVI in 2013. His death was announced on Saturday with a press release from the Vatican and not, as usual, from the Vicar General.
The Vatican announced a “solemn but simple” ceremony, which is also in the spirit of Benedict XVI. But there are those who resent the fact that when Joseph Ratzinger died on Saturday morning, the cathedral bells did not ring as usual when a pope dies. It is also curious that the flags only fly at half mast in some buildings close to the Vatican.
The protocol for the death of an emeritus pope had not yet been invented. Because Benedict XVI. as his resignation is no longer head of state, only the presidents of Germany and Italy were officially invited to the funeral.
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass, for sure. At the end of the service in St. Peter’s Square, he will consecrate Benedict’s coffin with holy water and incense and hand him over to the afterlife with several prayers, the “Ultima commendatio” and the “Valedictio”. It is also true that Benedict XVI. will be buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in the former tomb of John Paul II. After his canonization, the previous pope was reburied in a tomb in the cathedral.
that Benedict XVI. was not a conqueror of hearts in Rome can be seen a little later in a bar on Via delle Fornaci. Three older Roman women are talking about the deceased. “No way, he was loved by everyone,” says one. “He was cold and distant,” says another.