Funeral of Pope Benedict XVI: Francis leads the ceremony in the Vatican

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Tens of thousands gathered at the Vatican on Thursday for the funeral of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, a stalwart of conservative values ​​who shocked the Catholic Church when he resigned a decade ago.

Black-clad mourners filled St. Peter’s Square before the Mass, which began at 9:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET). Pope Francis presided, with the pontiff leading the farewell of his predecessor in an event unprecedented in modern times.

As fog blanketed the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, the ceremony began with a prayer by Francis for Benedict XVI and readings were given in Spanish, English and Latin. Hymns sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir included Psalm 23 and Hallelujah.

Francis honored Benedict in his homily, but did not dwell on his specific legacy and only spoke his name once, in the final line.

Prayers were also said in German, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Italian.

Francis placed his hand on the cypress coffin of Benedict XVI as it was carried to St. Peter’s Basilica, before placing his hand on his chest and bowing. The coffin was carried out of the square to applause and cheers from the crowd.

Benedict, who died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 95, shocked the Catholic Church when he retired in 2013, becoming the first pontiff to do so in 600 years. That decision will shape his legacy, as will the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church in recent years.

In 2013, he ceded the papacy to Francis, who is seen as a more reformist leader, and spent his final years living in the Vatican in a reformed monastery.

Because Benedict XVI was no longer head of state when he died, only two countries, Italy and his native Germany, sent official delegations to the funeral. But other world leaders and royals attended in a private capacity.

Tight security measures were in place at the Holy See to ensure the safety of the event, with more than 1,000 Italian security personnel deployed and its airspace closed during the day.

Some 50,000 people attended Thursday’s mass, according to the Vatican.

Image: The funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes place in St. Peter's Basilica
Former Queen Sofía of Spain, King Felipe of Belgium and Queen Matilda of Belgium attend the funeral on Thursday. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Prominent clerics who attended the funeral included Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, his secretary said. Zen, a 90-year-old retired bishop, has been at odds with Francis over the Vatican’s deal with Chinese authorities over the appointment of bishops.

Nearly 200,000 people paid their respects as the body of Benedict XVI lay in St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday to Wednesday night.

The Pope’s body was placed in a simple wooden coffin. After the funeral ceremony, the coffin was returned to the interior of the basilica and zinc-coated before being sealed in a second wooden coffin.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Thursday. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

At his request, Benedict will be buried in the Vatican’s underground grottoes in the niche where the first Pope, John XXIII, and then John Paul II were buried before their remains were moved to more prominent places in the basilica above.

A written account of the pope’s life will be buried with him in his coffin, the Vatican has announced. The document cited his theological and papal legacy, including his outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat clergy sexual abuse by “continually calling the church to conversion, prayer, penance and purification.”