Benedict’s admirers keep streaming to Vatican to honor him

Mourners view the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as it lies in state inside St. Peter's Basilica at The Vatican.
Mourners view the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as it lies in state inside St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican.
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

For a second day, lines of people wanting to honor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s service to the Catholic church snaked around St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday to view the late retired pontiff’s body.

Increasingly frail, Benedict died on Saturday at age 95, 10 years after retiring from the papacy — the first to do so in 600 years.

His body lies in state in St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Monday, the first day the general public could view the body, around 65,000 people paid their respects — about double what Italian security had predicted. Half-way through the viewing hours on Tuesday, some 25,000 people had filed through the basilica, Italian state TV said. A third day of viewing is set for Wednesday.

On Thursday, Pope Francis will lead the funeral Mass at St. Peter’s Square for his predecessor, whose retirement lasted two years longer than his papacy, which began in 2005.

Among prominent churchmen coming for the funeral will be Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, his secretary said. Zen, a retired 90-year-old bishop, has been sharply at odds with Francis over the Vatican’s agreement with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops. Zen contends the deal betrays pro-Vatican Catholics in China and the clergy who have suffered persecution there.

Elevated to cardinal’s rank by Benedict, Zen had been arrested last year on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security. While not charged with the security-related accusations, he was fined in November after being found guilty of failing to register a now-defunct fund that aimed to help people arrested in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was among those coming to the basilica viewing Tuesday morning. Like Benedict did, Orbán has crusaded for a revival of what conservatives in Europe view as Europe’s Christian roots.

The basilica’s doors opened before dawn on Tuesday. Among those paying respects was Miriam Groppelli, an altar server in her parish in Milan, who wasn’t even born when Benedict was pontiff.

The 6-year-old and her father, Giuseppe Groppelli, 40, traveled by train in the early hours to offer their homage, along with the child’s grandparents and older brother and sisters.

“I told her his story and she was really excited to come to Rome to say goodbye,” the father said. “Benedict has been very important for the Church, his speeches were so clear and beautiful, he leaves a great legacy of knowledge.”

Groppelli offered his take on the unusual, nearly-decade-long arrangement that saw Benedict’s retirement in the Vatican City monastery where he died on Saturday, and Francis, who was elected in 2013 by fellow cardinals to succeed him.

“I believe there’s no real war or competition within the church and between popes. The church lives and grows every day, also thanks to their words,” he said.

Benedict, who as German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had served for decades at the Vatican as the church’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, was known for his theological knowledge as well as for eloquent speeches.

Francis will eulogize his predecessor at the funeral, which the Vatican has said would be marked by the simplicity that Benedict requested.

Since Benedict was no longer head of Vatican City State, in contrast to protocols for funerals of popes who died when they were reigning, only two countries — Italy and his native Germany — will send official delegations, according to the Vatican.

Instead, politicians and royalty, especially of predominantly Catholic countries, will attend in a private role.

With no need to elect a new pontiff following this former pope’s death, cardinals who attend the funeral won’t have to stay on in Rome to vote in a secret conclave to pick the next man who will help shape the Church’s direction.

Still, with cardinals from around the world flocking to Rome to mourn the former pope, Francis would have ample opportunity to confer with these “princes of the Church,” who — besides electing future pontiffs — serve as privileged advisers to reigning popes.

The last decade saw an uneasy kind of equilibrium over the presence in the Vatican of a retired pope and a reigning pope.

Now, Francis governs the church without that presence, which loomed over his papacy despite Benedict’s last years lived out mainly with prayer and meditation.

On Tuesday, two powerful U.S. churchmen, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, attended Mass in the basilica being celebrated at an altar just behind the central viewing area for Benedict’s body.

Francis has largely conducted business as usual since his predecessor passed away.

On Tuesday, he met with the cardinal who heads the Italian bishops conference, bid farewell to South Korea’s ambassador to the Holy See in a courtesy visit, greeted a delegation of an organization promoting brotherhood and appointed new papal envoys to Uruguay and to United Arab Emirates.