Pope Benedict XVI Faithful respect during Vatican tour The.jpgw1440

Pope Benedict XVI: Faithful respect during Vatican tour

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VATICAN CITY – His body was brought into St. Peter’s Basilica just after dawn on Monday, laid out in red robes and black priest’s shoes. A purple pillow supported his back, two more pillows lay under his head. A cardinal scattered incense around the body, and then—before the basilica’s doors opened to the public—workers cordoned off the catafalque, exposing the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Thus began a new week in which a retired pope – inactive for a decade until his death on Saturday – became the focus of the Catholic world one last time.

It was positioned just in front of the main altar under the soaring golden dome for all those who came to pay tribute. Two Swiss Guards stood guard. The public’s opening hours – of the 34 total that will lead to his funeral on Thursday – featured nuns holding rosaries, people clasping their hands and pilgrims who had traveled hours to be there.

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“A giant of faith,” said Andrea Ascani, 47, who had traveled with his family from the Umbrian mountain town of Assisi.

But it was also clear when I watched Monday’s negotiations that there is a profound difference between dying as a pope and dying as an ex-pope.

By the time John Paul II was in state, hotels in Rome were full and the wait for the body threatened to be so long – almost 24 hours, according to reports from the Times – that officials closed the line.

In the case of Benedict, the waiting time was one hour. Crowds around the basilica were larger than normal but stayed close to the main square. According to the Vatican, around 40,000 people passed between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

And above all, there were few open emotions. Some passers-by were just tourists who wanted to see the basilica. Many held up their phones as they approached the catafalque. Security kept the line moving – “Forward! Go on!” They told the crowd — making it difficult for anyone wanting an intimate moment.

The downfall of John Paul had gripped the Catholic faithful because it was so public and painful – just one of the reasons his death caused such shock. Days before his death, the 84-year-old Pope appeared at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and struggled to pronounce a coherent syllable.

But in Benedict’s case, the act of aging happened mostly behind the scenes. Pope Francis replaced him as Catholicism’s spiritual authority, and in retirement Benedict left little trace – in occasional writings or appearances in Vatican photographs. Some conservative Catholics considered him a regular inspiration. But its day-to-day relevance to many in the faith had waned.

“Now he’s yesterday’s pope,” said Gerard O’Connell, a Vatican correspondent who has covered the church for more than three decades and has written a report on the conclave that elected Francis.

O’Connell said Benedict received an emotional farewell – but it was 2013 when he abdicated. More than 100,000 people gathered for his final speech, some in tears, as he spoke of loving the church and “having the courage to make difficult, painful decisions.” The next day he was taken by helicopter to his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, no longer Pope.

“I remember very well the feeling of sadness, of emotion,” O’Connell said.

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Benedict had already established a central place in modern Catholicism before his election as pope, first with his theological research, then with his two decades as the trusted representative of John Paul. After eight years as pope, he became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

But some people in line on Monday noted that for all his greatness in faith, Benedict looked so tiny in death. Part of this was the scale of the basilica. Even before his health began to falter, he had only stood 5ft 7. In recent years he had become increasingly stooped.

“He looked so fragile,” said Markus Lautenschlager, an evangelical pastor from Germany who was visiting Rome with his family, who were waiting in line to pay tribute.

He was standing, his hands clasped at the waist, holding rosary beads. His skin was a greyish tint.

“It was a bit morbid,” said Denisa Manojlovic, who was visiting Rome from Croatia.

Pope Francis indicated last Wednesday that his predecessor was in poor health and asked for prayer. Francis visited Benedict’s body shortly after his death and will preside at the funeral mass on Thursday.

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Authorities expect a crowd of about 60,000 for the funeral. After that, Benedict is buried in the grottoes in the bowels of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the remains of 91 popes are kept. The funeral will not have quite the pomp of previous popes, a sign of Benedict’s status as Pope Emeritus. Only two delegations from Italy and Germany will take part.

Even on Monday, Benedict didn’t have all the characteristics of a pope. The Vatican news site noted that Benedict lay in state without a pallium, a robe that would not be used for a “retired prelate.”

For almost a decade Benedict had lived in a monastery within the walls of the Vatican; he had also died there. His body was taken to the basilica by van early Monday morning and then carried into the basilica by 10 white-gloved attendants on a platform covered in red fabric. Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the basilica’s archpriest, prayed that the “deceased pope emeritus” would be welcomed into the “eternal dwelling”.

Before the public opening, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni paid their respects.