The devout, the curious and the professional observers attend Pope Benedict’s funeral | World News

It was an occasion attended by a mix of people, devotees, enthusiasts and professional observers all brought together by the death of a man who had retired almost a decade ago.

Monks, priests, nuns, cardinals, bishops — every segment of the Catholic community was represented inside St. Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict’s funeral.

And then there were the thousands of worshipers who came here for their personal mourning.

Among them were nuns from Nigeria, who called Benedict “courageous” for his decision to retire at the age of 85, one of whom said he should be considered a saint.

A missionary from the Philippines said she thought of the former pope as “faithful and humble” — an example for everyone in the church.

Pope Francis touches the coffin of former Pope Benedict.
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Pope Francis touches the coffin of former Pope Benedict.
Pope's Funeral

Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic Church across Britain, was also present, with people around him waiting patiently to pray for him.

“I knew Pope Benedict very well so I feel a real sense of sadness and loss,” he said, “but I think the warmth was also a reflection of his personality.”

“The thing that stuck with people was that he was gentle – he was a gentleman – and he had great insight and sensitivity.

“Anyone who met him walked away with a sense of someone who was warm and humble, someone you could relate to, even when dealing with difficulties.

“That’s what resonated with people today – they were saying goodbye to someone who was just lovely.”

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Pope Benedict’s coffin was placed in front of the altar.

There is no disagreement in his life despite the critics.

Around this, there was no disagreement. Pope Benedict had many critics during his lifetime, particularly those who said he did not do enough to combat sex abuse scandals within his church, but today was not the forum for those debates.

It was, at heart, the funeral of a venerable man, with most, if not all, the trappings of a fully papal affair.

And that’s what brought the curious as well, because it was the day of the public spectacle and there were people who came just to say they were there, or to post a picture of the crowd.

Then there were the professionals – politicians, royals and representatives as well as police, medical staff and support staff.

They were accompanied by the Swiss Guard who guard the Vatican, journalists from dozens of countries and hardworking street cleaners who cleaned up before and after the ceremony.

Former Pope Benedict's third casket is locked in The Holy Grotto of the Vatican.  Photo: Vatican Media/Reuters
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Former Pope Benedict’s third casket is locked in The Holy Grotto of the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media/Reuters

St Peter’s Square was nowhere near as packed – but it was still special.

The service was barely over when the barriers were being removed – the Vatican is very good at managing crowds.

It was not unlike the funeral of the previous Pope John Paul II, whose death brought millions of people to Italy and outpoured grief from around the world.

Benedict didn’t last long in the job, didn’t develop such affection, and didn’t die in office. St. Peter’s Square, which can hold hundreds of thousands of people, was nowhere near packed.

Read more:
Thousands of people lined up to see Pope Benedict’s body lie in state.

But it was still a special occasion. There were moments when the whole congregation was clapping around, when the music seemed to be breaking through the fog. Crowds of people held their breath as they watched Pope Francis kiss the casket holding the body of his predecessor.

It was the day when normalcy was restored in the Catholic Church – when divided affections ended and when attention returned to the one man left in the world who had been proclaimed Pope.

The question now, for pious, curious and professional observers, is this: Was Benedict’s decision to retire a one-off curiosity or a precedent for Francis to follow?

On a day when the Vatican marks the past, many wonder about the future.



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