January 5th, 2023
Pope Francis Buries His Predecessor Benedict XVI
Fr Emmanuel Obi SPS
Studying and living in Rome comes with a lot of opportunities to have profound historical and cultural education that is not easy to come by. If one is lucky to be around enough, it is very possible to experience memorable moments in which history unfolds right before one’s eyes. That was my experience following the death and funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Rome.
The same thunderous applause from thousands of the faithful gathered at the funeral that welcomed the cypress-wooden coffin bearing the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to St Peter’s Square for his funeral Mass on the 5th of January 2023, also accompanied the body as it was taken to its burial place. It is the first time for over 220 years for a sitting Pope to officiate at the funeral Mass of his predecessor. Usually, the Dean of the College of Cardinals officiates at the funeral of a Pope. In 2005 when Pope John Paul II died, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was the Dean of the College of Cardinals then officiated at the funeral before he was later elected as Pope and took on the name Benedict XVI. His resignation as Pope on the 28th of April 2013 created the opportunity in which the current Pope Francis presided over the Funeral Mass while Cardinal Giovanni Battista, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, was the main celebrant at the altar. Pope Gregory XII who had resigned in 1415 was the last to have done so before Benedict XVI.
At the funeral, there were over 120 cardinals, 400 bishops and close to 4,000 priests from all over the world who concelebrated at the Mass. In his homily, Pope Francis lauded the late Benedict XVI for his wisdom, tenderness, and devotion to the Church over a span of many years. Francis described him as “a faithful friend of the bridegroom” – Jesus, and prayed that Benedict’s “joy may be complete as he hears the voice of the bridegroom now and forever”. An estimated sixty thousand mourners were present at the funeral.
Since his death at the age of 95 on Saturday 31st of December 2022, he was no longer a sitting Pope and Head of the Vatican City State, his funeral was not marked by so much pomp as the burials of Popes are known to be. The funeral, although dignified as it is expected for a man who had exercised a great influence on the life of the Church and faithfully served her in various capacities since the Second Vatican Council, it was marked by simplicity. That reflection of simplicity was equally one of the marks of Pope Benedict XVI himself, who while addressing the crowds gathered at St Peter’s Square at his election referred to himself as “a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard”. That simplicity played out at the funeral which saw only two official delegations of States, the Prime Minister of Italy Giorgia Meloni and Olaf Scholz the Chancellor of Germany, his native country, in attendance. The leaders of Poland, Hungary, King Philippe of Belgium and his wife Queen Mathilde and Queen Letizia of Spain attended the funeral in an unofficial capacity.
From Monday January 2nd to Wednesday the 4th of January 2023, Benedict XVI’s body laid in state at the foot of the altar inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Over two hundred thousand people have been said to have gone to pay their last respects to him at the Basilica. At the end of the funeral Mass before the remains were taken away for burial, Pope Francis, placed his hand over the coffin and silently prayed for his late predecessor, quietly saying goodbye to a man whose quiet spiritual and moral presence in the Vatican has accompanied his own Pontificate for almost ten years.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was buried in the crypt under St. Peter’s Basilica, the very place where his predecessor, Pope John Paull II was initially buried in 2005 before his body was transferred to one of the chapels in the Basilica at his beatification on May 1st, 2011. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered for his great contributions to Catholic theology over a span of many years. Many have compared his intellectual and spiritual insights to that of St. Augustine of Hippo. He is said to have published innumerable essays, 66 books, 3 encyclicals and 4 exhortations. The Catholic newspaper in Rome, L’Osservatore Romano says Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered as the Pope of Reason, Faith, and Love.
Fr Emmanuel Obi SPS was ordained in 2013. He worked in the Republic of South Sudan and is currently studying in Rome.