Crowds of Catholics gathered in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican tonight as they prepare to say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI.
Benedict, the first pope in 600 years to resign from the role, died in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican at 9.34am on Saturday and will be lying in state from Monday.
It comes after Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Day Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.
The huge basilica will host Benedict’s coffin from Monday, and thousands of faithful are expected to attend the first of three days of viewing.
The former pope’s body has been dressed in a mitre, the headgear of a bishop, and a red cloak-like vestment in preparation. A rosary was placed in his hand.
Francis, who looked weary after arriving to St Peter’s Basilica in a wheelchair this morning, will lead Benedict’s funeral on Thursday in St Peter’s Square where mourners gathered today.
The pontiff departed from his written homily this morning to pray aloud for Benedict, imploring the Virgin Mary to ‘accompany him in his passage to the hands’ of God.
Benedict’s funeral will be a simple one, the Vatican has said, in keeping with the wishes of the former pope, who for decades as a German cardinal had served as the Church’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy before he was elected pope in 2005.
An array of world leaders honoured Benedict’s legacy, with King Charles expressing his ‘deep sadness’ at his death in a message to Francis, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also paid tribute.