Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to former pope Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday, in the days leading up to his funeral this week.
Benedict’s body was displayed on Sunday in a chapel of the Vatican monastery where he lived, and will lie in state at St Peter’s Basilica from Monday until Thursday. His funeral in St Peter’s Square will be a simple, solemn and sober ceremony in keeping with his wishes, the Vatican said.
Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, will preside over the service. On Sunday, looking weary with his head bowed, Francis prayed for Benedict’s passage to heaven at a special New Year’s Day mass.
“Today we entrust to our Blessed Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, so that she may accompany him in his passage from this world to God,” he said.
Francis, 86, on Sunday arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair for the mass, which was celebrated by the Vatican’s secretary of state. The pope has suffered from pain in his right knee since straining ligaments earlier last year.
Later, Francis spoke again about Benedict when he offered new year greetings to thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square. “Let us unite all together, with one heart and one soul, in giving thanks to God for the gift of this faithful servant of the gospel and of the church,’’ he said from a window of the Apostolic Palace to pilgrims and tourists below.
The Vatican released Benedict’s spiritual testament, in which he thanked God for his blessings and asked for forgiveness from all those he had wronged.
Benedict died on Saturday, aged 95, almost 10 years after shocking the Roman Catholic church by becoming the first pope for six centuries to retire. After stepping down, he took the title Pope Emeritus and lived at the Vatican.
He was regarded as a unrivalled theologian and intellectual, but attracted criticism for his failures to recognise and act on the scale of sexual abuse within the global Roman Catholic church.
Benedict’s death has brought to a close an unprecedented period in recent history where two popes have coexisted, a situation that has caused tensions within rival camps in the Vatican. It eases the way for his successor, Pope Francis, to consider whether to follow Benedict by retiring at some point – impossible while the outcome would have been three popes.
Ahead of being sworn in on Sunday as president of the world’s largest Catholic nation, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, offered “comfort to the faithful and admirers of the Holy Father”.
Associated Press contributed to this report