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Pope Francis presides over funeral of Benedict XVI and speaks of friendship in historic moment

ROME and LONDON — Pope Francis on Thursday paid tribute to his friend and retired predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as he presided over his funeral Mass at the Vatican, an unprecedented event in the modern Catholic Church.

Benedict, who died on Saturday aged 95, stunned the faithful in 2013 when he became the first pope to resign in more than 600 years. His funeral marked the first time a supreme pontiff presided over the previous pope’s funeral in modern times, according to church scholars.

PHOTO: The coffin of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is carried to St Peter's Square for a funeral mass at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

The coffin of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is carried to St Peter’s Square for a funeral mass at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

André Medichini/AP

Thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday morning. The funeral procession began before the last of the morning’s fog had burned the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, where Benedict had lain in state. The mass began at 9:30 am local time, moments after Benedict XVI’s coffin was carried into the square. Francis arrived in a wheelchair.

PHOTO: Pope Francis presides over the funeral services of former Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square, Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Pope Francis presides over the funeral services of former Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on January 5, 2023.

Yara Nardi/Reuters

Francis opened his homily with the last words of Jesus, spoken on the cross, saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Francis spoke in Italian of the spirit of life that “silently inspires us”, adding that the spirit “desires to mold the heart of every pastor, until it is in tune with the heart of Christ Jesus”.

“Like the Master, a pastor bears the burden of interceding and the burden of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened,” he said.

PHOTO: The coffin of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is carried to St Peter's Square for a funeral mass at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

The coffin of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is carried to St Peter’s Square for a funeral mass at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

Ben Curtis/AP

He also spoke of friendship, likening it to a sustaining force in the midst of “a shipwreck of the present life,” as St. Gregory the Great had written in the Pastoral Rule, a guide for leaders.

Francisco ended his eulogy by saying: “Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete in hearing your voice, now and forever!”

The ceremony was intended to be “roughly similar” to those held for pontiffs who have died while still leading the Church, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters on Wednesday.

PHOTO: Worshipers wait to enter St Peter's Square on the day of the funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Worshipers wait to enter St Peter’s Square on the day of the funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

“The missing elements are those most pertinent to a reigning pontiff,” Bruni said, “like the final supplications, the supplication of the diocese of Rome and the Eastern Churches that are very specific for a sitting pope.”

PHOTO: People enter St Peter's Square at the Vatican before the funeral mass of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, January 5, 2023.

People enter St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican before the funeral mass of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, January 5, 2023.

Domenico Stinellis/AP

Heads of state and Catholic dignitaries attended, although the church only offered official invitations to Italian and German dignitaries. The Vatican advised foreign embassies that any other leader who wished to attend could do so, but only in his “private capacity”.

The United States was represented by Joseph Donnelly, Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, his office said On thursday. The ambassador represented the United States in accordance with “the wishes of the Vatican and the Pope Emeritus for a simple and solemn funeral,” officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd gathered in St. Mark's Square as he crosses the square in an electric car on May 7, 2011 in Venice, Italy.

In this file photo, Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd gathered in St. Mark’s Square as he crosses the square in an electric car on May 7, 2011, in Venice, Italy.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images

Benedict XVI, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, was elevated to the post of pope aged 78 in 2005. He retired eight years later, citing ill health.

Thousands of faithful have flocked in recent days to St. Peter’s Basilica, where the retired pontiff lied in red robes. Members of the Swiss Guard flanked Benedict, standing outside the red velvet ropes that surrounded his remains.

PHOTO: Nuns line up before dawn to view the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he is laid to rest in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, January 3, 2023.

Nuns line up before dawn to view the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he is laid to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, January 3, 2023.

Ben Curtis/AP

A steady stream of mourners flowed into the church. Many lined up for hours to pay their last respects. More than 65,000 people are said to have entered the Basilica on Monday alone, with similar crowds in the following days.

PHOTO: The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is laid to rest in Saint Peter's Basilica on January 3, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican City.

The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is laid to rest in Saint Peter’s Basilica on January 3, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican City.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica have not rung since Saturday, the day Benedict died, Vatican officials have confirmed. The death toll is usually touched by the death of a seated pope.

Benedict’s remains were placed on Wednesday in a triple coffin – lined with cypress, zinc and wood – and were taken on Thursday at around 8:50 am to St. Peter’s Square, where the funeral would take place.

PHOTO: Faithful attend the funeral mass of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

Faithful attend the funeral mass of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Thursday, January 5, 2023.

Ben Curtis/AP

During the mass, Francis sat and watched as a cardinal anointed and blessed the coffin. Moments earlier, Francis had said in Latin: “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Salus Populi Romani, intercede with the Eternal Father, so that he may reveal the face of Jesus, his Son, to Pope Emeritus Benedict and console the Church about his pilgrimage through history as he awaits the Lord’s return”.

Francis in the days before and after Benedict XVI’s death asked church followers to pray for him. The two popes were reportedly friendly after Benedict XVI’s resignation.

PHOTO: A stream of mourners approaches the body of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lying in state inside St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, where thousands have come to pay their respects, January 3, 2023.

A stream of mourners approaches the body of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lying in state inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican where thousands have come to pay their respects, January 3, 2023.

Domenico Stinellis/AP

A Vatican press office official told reporters on Sunday that Francis was “the first” to arrive on Saturday at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where Benedict lived within the Vatican walls, after receiving the news of Benedict’s death. Bruni said the pontiff remained at the monastery for a moment of prayer.

Francis on New Year’s Day asked followers invoke “the intercession of Mary Most Holy for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI”.

PHOTO: Dawn breaks over Rome as worshipers from around the world arrive in St. Peter's Square to pay their respects to the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on January 2, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican City.

Dawn breaks over Rome as worshipers from around the world arrive at St. Peter’s Square to pay their respects to the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on January 2, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican City.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The pontiff added: “Let us all join together, with one heart and one soul, to thank God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and the Church.”

Benedict’s remains were to be buried immediately after Thursday’s funeral, Vatican officials said.

“Furthermore,” Bruni said, “the coffin will also contain the ‘rogito’, a written text describing the pontificate that is placed in a metal cylinder inside the coffin. The Vatican released a copy of the text on Thursday, a A sketch biography of a few hundred words written in Italian, describing Benedict’s parents, his childhood in Germany, his rise to the top of the church, and his resignation.

Below the text, it reads: “CORPUS BENEDICTI XVI PM”

As the white-gloved pallbearers picked up the coffin to return it to the Basilica, Francis stepped down from the dais with the help of a cane. He blessed the coffin, placed his free hand on it, bowed and closed his eyes for a minute of reflection.

PHOTO: Pope Francis touches the coffin of former Pope Benedict XVI during his funeral, in St. Peter's Square, Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Pope Francis touches the coffin of former Pope Benedict XVI during his funeral, in St Peter’s Square, Vatican, January 5, 2023.

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

He stood still for a moment, until his wheelchair was brought over to him.

Benedict was buried in the Crypt of St. Peter, where more than 90 popes have found their final resting place.

Clark Bentson of ABC News contributed to this report.

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