VATICAN CITY, Jan 2 (Portal) – A steady stream of tens of thousands of people poured into St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday to pay tribute to former Pope Benedict XVI. to pay their respects, whose body was laid out without papal paraphernalia before his burial this week.
Benedict, a hero of conservative Catholics yearning for a return to a more traditional church, died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the remote Vatican monastery where he had lived since 2013, when he became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
“I feel like he was a grandfather to us,” Veronica Siegal, 16, a Catholic high school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is in Rome for a religious studies program, told Portal in St. Peter’s Square after she had seen the corpse.
She said she read one of Benedict’s books about 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, also 16, from Atlanta, Georgia. A third girl in the group wore an American flag on her back.
Security was tight, and visitors went through several checkpoints before entering the basilica. Many stopped to pray after seeing the body, or stayed to attend mass in side chapels.
Vatican police said 65,000 people passed by on the first day.
Benedict’s body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments and placed on a simple dais, was carried in a just before dawn procession through the Vatican Gardens from the monastery to a place in front of the main altar of the largest church in Christianity.
Two Swiss Guards stood on either side of the body, which bore no papal regalia or regalia, such as a crosier, the silver baton bearing a crucifix, or a pallium, a band of cloth worn around the neck by bishops of the archdiocese.
Both were on the body of Pope John Paul when it was laid out in 2005.
It was not clear if the Shepherd’s Cross or other items he used would be buried with him, but the decision not to have them during the public viewing seemed to have been made to underscore that he would not after his death was more Pope.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Benedict would be buried according to his wishes in the same spot in the crypts beneath St. Peter’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II was originally buried in 2005, before his body was moved to a chapel in the basilica in 2011.
ITALY’S EXECUTIVES PAY RESPECT
Before the church opened to the public, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Georgia Meloni were the first outsiders to pay their respects.
Benedict’s closest collaborator, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, sat in the first pew next to the corpse, along with Benedict’s household and medics who cared for him in his final days.
After a few hours they rose to pray before the body. Ganswein stayed behind to accept condolences from visitors.
“I had to come,” Sri, a visitor from Jakarta, Indonesia, told Portal. “He was the Pope and I’m a Catholic,” she said, declining to give her last name.
Benedict will be in state by Wednesday evening. His funeral will take place on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square, with Pope Francis presiding. The Vatican has announced that it will be a simple, solemn and sober ceremony, in line with Benedict’s wishes.
The Vatican has carefully crafted rituals for what happens after the death of an incumbent pope, but none for a former pope, so what happens over the next few days could become a template for future ex-popes.
Bruni said the details of the funeral service are not yet finalized.
Although the number of visitors was large, there was no sign of the huge crowd that had come to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II as millions waited hours to enter the basilica.
Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie
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