Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI body lying in state at Vatican

VATICAN CITY — The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his head resting on a pair of crimson pillows, was laid out in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday as thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to the pope who shocked the world when he died a decade ago retired.

As daylight broke, 10 white-gloved papal gentlemen — lay assistants to popes and papal households — carried the body on a cloth-covered wooden stretcher to its resting place in front of the main altar under Bernini’s towering bronze canopy upon its arrival in the basilica.

A Swiss Guard had saluted as the body was brought in through a side door, after Benedict’s remains were brought in a van from the chapel on the monastery grounds, where the increasingly frail, 95-year-old former pope died on Saturday morning.

His longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, and a handful of consecrated lay women who served in Benedict’s household followed the van on foot in a silent procession to the basilica. Some of the women reached out to touch the body with respect.

Before the ordinary faithful were allowed to enter the basilica, prayers were intoned and a small cloud of incense was released near the corpse.

Just after 9 a.m. (0800 GMT), the basilica’s doors were swung open to allow the public, some who had waited for hours in the pre-dawn dampness, to pay their respects to the late pope, who left the papacy in 2013 the first pope in 600 years.

Loyal and curious, the audience strode briskly up the aisle to pass the bier with its draped fabrics, after queuing in a line that snaked around St. Peter’s Square mid-morning.

People wait in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican where the late Pope Benedict 16 will be laid in state Monday January 2, 2023 at the Vatican.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Benedict’s body was dressed in a miter, a bishop’s pointed headgear, and a red cloak.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, came on an overnight train from Venice to see Benedict’s body.

“I wanted to pay my respects to Benedict because he played a key role in my life and education. I got here around 7:30 a.m. after leaving Venice last night,” Tuccio said.

“When I was young, I took part in World Youth Days,” said the pilgrim, referring to the Jamborees of young believers that were held regularly and attended by popes. Tuccio added that he studied theology, and “his pontificate accompanied me throughout my student days.”

“He was very important to me: to who I am, my way of thinking, my values. That’s why I wanted to say goodbye today.”

The public viewing lasts 10 hours on Monday in St. Peter’s Basilica. Twelve hours are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday morning’s funeral in St. Peter’s Square, which will be presided over by Pope Francis.

Security officials expected at least 25,000 people to walk past the body on the first day of the tour.

On two sides of the piazza’s colonnade, spectators went through the usual security measures required for tourists entering the basilica – through metal detectors and candling bags through an X-ray machine.

Among them was Marina Ferrante, 62. The Roman arrived an hour before the doors opened and got emotional as she explained why she had come.

“I think his most important legacy was teaching us how to be free,” she said. “He had a special intelligence in saying the gist of his faith and it was contagious” to other believers. “When he died, I thought I’d like to be as free as he was.”

While he ventured that the shy German churchman and theologian and the current Argentine-born pope had different temperaments, “I believe there is a continuity between him and Pope Francis, and anyone who understands the true relationship between them and Christ can see that,” Ferrante said.

An American living in Rome called the opportunity to see the body “an amazing experience”. Mountain Butorac, 47, who is originally from Atlanta, said he arrived 90 minutes before dawn and left the basilica half an hour after it opened.

“I loved Benedict, I loved him as a cardinal (Joseph Ratzinger), when he was elected pope and even after his retirement,” Butorac said. “I think he was kind of a grandfather to the people who lived in the Vatican.”

He came to the Vatican to pray for Benedict when he was ill, “so I wanted to be here today to say goodbye. I think he and Francis were close, they cared about each other,” he said.

Some VIPs had a moment to pay their respects to the general public, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who has in the past expressed his admiration for Benedict’s conservative leanings.


Trisha Thomas contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Alley Einstein

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