Hours before the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET), crowds had gathered at the Vatican to attend.
Mourners gathered in St. Peter’s Square before Mass officiated by Pope Francis. An event in which a sitting pope presides over his predecessor’s farewell is unprecedented in modern times.
Benedict, who died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 95, shocked the Catholic Church in 2013 when he became the first pope to retire in 600 years. He handed over the papacy to Francis, who was seen as a more reformed leader.
Benedict was not head of state at the time of his death, so only two countries, Italy and his native Germany, sent official delegations to his funeral. However, other world leaders and royalty are expected to attend in private capacity.
In order to ensure the safety of the event, more than 1,000 Italian security guards are deployed at the Holy See, and a strict security system is in place, with the airspace closed all day.
Nearly 200,000 people paid their respects to the Pope’s body, which lay in St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday to Wednesday evening.
The pope’s body was placed in a simple wooden coffin in preparation for his funeral. After the funeral, the coffin is moved inside the basilica, covered with zinc and sealed in a second wooden coffin.
Benedict was buried in an underground cave in the Vatican at his request.