Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, a day after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in his Vatican retreat.
The huge basilica will house the coffin of Benedict XVI from Monday. Thousands of worshipers are expected to turn up at the coffin on the first of the three days of the wake.
Benedict XVI, 95, died Saturday morning at the Vatican, where he had lived since his retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to resign, citing his growing frailty.
Francis looked tired and sat with his head bowed as mass began on the first day of the year, an occasion the Catholic Church dedicates to the theme of peace.
He briefly stepped away from reading his homily, with its emphasis on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.
“Today we entrust to our Blessed Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to accompany him on his way from this world to God,” he said.
The pontiff will lead the funeral of Benedict XVI on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. That rite will be simple, the Vatican said, in accordance with the wishes of Benedict XVI, who for decades as a German cardinal served as guardian of the Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy before being elected pope in 2005.
Francis went to pay his respects to Benedict XVI immediately after the retired pontiff’s death, after receiving a call from the Rev. Georg Gaenswein, Benedict XVI’s longtime secretary. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis stayed at the Benedict XVI monastery for quite some time before returning to his home hotel across the Vatican Gardens.
In recent years, Francis has praised Benedict XVI’s surprising decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years and made it clear that he would consider such a step as an option for himself.
Hobbled by knee pain, Francis, 86, arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair on Sunday, before taking his place in a chair for the mass, which was being officiated by the Vatican’s secretary of state.
Francis, who has repeatedly criticized the war in Ukraine and its devastation, recalled those who are victims of war and spend the year-end holidays in darkness, cold and fear.
“At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the Earth needs rain,” Francis said.