Pope Francis honors Benedict XVI at a funeral

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Opinion

VATICAN CITY – For the first time in modern history, the Catholic Church buried a retired pontiff, after a solemn ceremony Thursday that ushered in a final, inevitable move: the Pope Francis bowing his head and placing his hand on the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before he was carried away.

The requiem Mass, which was held in heavy smoke, used a mix of old rituals and new precedents to pay tribute to a figure who changed the party with his decision to quit 10 years ago .

The ceremony did not have the sound, color, sadness and even the joy that marked the funeral of John Paul II, the last pope in 2005. Benedict drew 50,000 people – a sixth of that crowd. It took 90 minutes, half as long. He showed the stark difference between what it means to die as a beloved sitting pope and as a retired and controversial pope.

Live updates on the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI

But the funeral was for two men, Benedict and Francis, one honored and one there to do the honoring, one who died on Saturday at 95 and the other, at 86, one of the oldest popes ever. registration. . On Thursday, the men who had lived side by side for 10 years were once again just 15 feet apart, with Francis – pushed to the altar in a wheelchair – seated in front of the cypress casket keep the previous one.

“We now bid farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict and commend him to God,” Francis said.

The funeral gave the church a final moment to reflect on one of its loudest and most polarizing conservatives – someone who shaped the faith with his moral testimony. As pontiff, he prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, named 84 cardinals and took 24 trips abroad. But he built a reputation above all by strongly defending the main teachings of the church, even when they were neutral among Catholics, a way that Francis has made a point of softening.

Catholic faithful pay their respects to Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica

It was precisely because of Benedict’s historic rejection that Francis had the opportunity to praise his predecessor. But instead of giving specific words about Benedict, he showed, again, why the time of the “two popes” could be so fragile. Francis delivered a homily full of verse, no personal touch, no mention of his predecessor by name until the last sentence, when he said: “Benedict… may your joy be complete when you hear his voice.”

Francis’ approach marked a distinct departure from holiness at the last papal funeral, delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger 10 days before he was to be elected as Benedict. Then, Ratzinger had woven verses and biography, describing the teenage years of John Paul II working at a chemical plant, what he discovered as a young priest, to rule as pontiff, when he tried “to meet everyone.” When Ratzinger finished, the crowd in St. Peter’s Square roared, some chanting, “Saint! Holy!”

On Thursday, when Francis finished, there was silence.

Benedict’s funeral to bring the era of ‘two popes’ to a complicated end

“There were no concessions to the audience,” said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University.

The response to Francis’ approach was mixed. Rod Dreher, an American commentator who converted to Orthodoxy but shares an ideological base with Catholic traditionalists, called the homily “mean-spirited and worthless.” It was short of what was needed at the time, said Dreher, who was present at the funeral.

Some were not surprised, and they noted that Francis regularly puts the Gospel at the heart of his obedience, including canonizations. Others said that Francis had duly paid tribute to a predecessor who preferred that the church be taken care of and not himself.

“It is completely in the spirit of Benedict, and it is only fair that his wishes should be respected,” Cardinal Wim Eijk, a conservative who greatly respected Benedict, said in an interview with the Washington Post after the funeral.

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Although the Vatican had predicted that Benedict’s funeral would be “simple,” it received many of the shares other pontiffs received: For three days this week, he lay in state for public visitation. Certain signs from his pontificate, as well as a written text describing his life and reign and retirement, were enclosed in his coffin. On Thursday after the funeral, he was given the last ceremonial funeral reserved for popes, with his coffin covered in zinc before being moved into an outdoor oak casket.

But since Benedict was not a sitting Pope, there will be no immediate conclave or mind. The church forgets its usual nine-day mourning period. In passages at the funeral, Benedict was called “pope emeritus.” There was an additional prayer for “Our Holy Father, Pope Francis.”

Among the crowd were several thousand clergy, more than 120 cardinals, European heads of state and pilgrims from all over the world. Some put out flags of Bavaria, the part of Germany where Benedict was born, baptized and ordained. Some of the attendees said they were personally moved by Benedict’s teachings or shared his vision for the church.

“We are here for Benedict,” said Tomasz Kotwicki, 58, a doctor from Poland. He said Francis, at the ceremony, looked “very tired.”

“Just like Benedict did in 2013” before he stepped down, he said.

As a result of that pause, and the subsequent election of Francis, came ten years of coexistence, turning warm and uneasy. Francis called Benedict “the elder of all elders” and Benedict made it clear that the church had only one authority – Francis. But because of the great differences in their methods, they were sometimes seen as leading different poles of the church.

In 2021, Francis reversed Pope Benedict’s signature liturgical decision by banning the old Latin Mass, a rite favored by some traditionalists. In an interview published this week by a German outlet, Benedict’s personal secretary and longtime confidant, Georg Gänswein, called that decision a “cut” against the pope emeritus. created “pain in his heart”.

Church historian Alberto Melloni said that after Benedict’s funeral, “Francis’ pontificate begins anew.” ” But it is not clear whether it is more difficult or easier. Benedict, in a few minutes, broke his promise of silence and opposed Francis, creating a headache for the church. But some church watchers saw Benedict, who was generally defiant, as preventing conservative dissent from reaching a boil.

With varying opinions over the years, Francis has indicated that he is prepared to follow Benedict’s resignation by finally resigning, if his health worsens. That doesn’t seem close; he keeps a neat record. Speculation about his future has run rampant – particularly after knee pain last year limited his mobility – but among Vatican watchers, it has been thought that long ago he would not resign with Benedict still alive, to avoid a situation with two old popes. Now, for the first time in his pontificate, there is no old pope.

“His hands are not so tied anymore,” Melloni said. “He will finally be allowed to choose what to do with his future.”

The only plausible thing that could stand in the way of his resignation is an increase in dissent so strong that it calls into question whether the decision was made freely.

After Francis placed his hand on the casket, 12 pallbearers took the coffin back to St. Peter’s Basilica, where within an hour it was encased in two additional layers and buried in the grottoes. His remains were placed in the same place that once belonged to John Paul II, before his casket was removed in 2011 and carried to the top floor of the basilica.

The Vatican released the text of the document that was placed inside Benedict’s coffin in a protective cylinder. The text represents the church’s statement on the 265th pope, describing his “great and deep” biblical and theological knowledge and how he encouraged dialogue with other religions. And he paints a picture of the extraordinary morning in 2013 when Benedict announced in Latin that he no longer had “strength of mind or body” for the job.

The document says about Benedict: “His memory remains in the heart of the church and of all humanity. “

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