Pope Francis called former pope Benedict XVI a noble, kind man who was a gift to the church and the world, in his first public comments since the death of his predecessor earlier on Saturday.
Francis spoke in the homily of a previously planned New Year’s Eve vespers of thanksgiving in St Peter’s Basilica.
“It is with emotion that we remember his person, so noble, so kind. And we feel in our heart such gratitude, gratitude to God for having gifted him to the church and the world,” Francis said.
Political and religious leaders around the world paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI, after his death was announced on Saturday.
President Joe Biden, a devoted Catholic, said the Pope Emeritus, who stunned the Roman Catholic church when he retired almost 10 years ago, would “be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the church, guided by his principles and faith”.
“May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all,” he added.
King Charles III praised Benedict’s “constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people” after his death.
The King expressed his “deep sadness” at Benedict’s death in a message to his successor Pope Francis, as the head of the Church of England.
Benedict became the second pontiff in history to visit the UK in 2010 when he met the Queen and made a historic address at Westminster Hall.
Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, said he was saddened at the news of Benedict’s death and recalled his visit to Britain in 2010 as “an historic moment for Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country”.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, also said Benedict’s visit had been “historic and joyous”.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the former pope’s visit to Scotland had been “special”.
Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, said Benedict was “a giant of faith and reason … A Christian, a pastor, a theologian: a great man whom history will not forget.”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said his “thoughts go out to Catholics in France and around the world”. Benedict had “worked with all his soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world”, he added.
Michael D Higgins, the president of Ireland, said that during his tenure Benedict had “sought to highlight both the common purpose of the world’s major religions and his injunctions as to how our individual responsibilities as citizens require the highest standards of ethics in our actions”.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said: “The world has lost a formative figure of the Catholic church, an argumentative personality and a clever theologian.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, paid tribute to an “outstanding theologian, intellectual and promoter of universal values”.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, described Benedict as “principled in his faith, tireless in his pursuit of peace, and determined in his defence of human rights”.
“He was a spiritual guide to millions across the world and one of the leading academic theologians of our time,” he added. “His powerful calls for solidarity with marginalised people everywhere and his urgent appeals to close the widening gap between rich and poor are more relevant than ever.”
In a statement, King Charles paid tribute to Benedict and recalled visiting him at the Vatican in 2009.
He said: “Your Holiness, I received the news of the death of your predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with deep sadness.
“I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009. His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.
“I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic church.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, said Benedict was “one of the great theologians of the 20th century”.
During his visit to the UK in 2010, Nichols said: “We saw his courtesy, his gentleness, the perceptiveness of his mind and the openness of his welcome to everybody that he met. He was through and through a gentleman, through and through a scholar, through and through a pastor, through and through a man of God – close to the Lord and always his humble servant.”
Justin Welby, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, described him as “one of the greatest theologians of his age – committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence”.
Welby added: “In 2013, Pope Benedict took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy, the first pope to do so since the 15th century. In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all.”
Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and leader of the Catholic church in Ireland, noted Benedict’s “humility and gentleness” and extended “sympathy to Pope Francis, to the family members and carers of the Pope Emeritus, and to all those in his native Germany and around the globe who loved him and will mourn his loss”.
The Catholic Women’s Ordination was more critical. In a statement the group, which seeks to ensure women are equal with men within the church, said: “Pope Benedict sadly represented an exclusive male clerical, hierarchical church that forbade women even to discuss women’s ordination. He went as far as to define the act of seeking women’s ordination, an excommunicable offence during his time as pope, as a grave crime equal to clerical sexual abuse.”
CWO said it would pray for repose for his soul, but that “we pray too for all victims of clerical abuse for whom his death will be a trigger and for those women, throughout the world, whose vocations to the Catholic priesthood continue to be dismissed and blocked”.
• This article was amended on 31 December 2022 because an earlier version said King Charles III expressed his sadness “as head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales”. That should have said as the head of the Church of England.