Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor former Pope Benedict XVI Thursday, in a funeral at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City marked by pomp and tradition.
The funeral marked the first occasion in modern times that a pontiff had presided over the funeral of his predecessor. Benedict, the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, died aged 95 on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City.
Dignitaries and religious leaders lined the square, which can seat approximately 60,000 people, for the ceremony. Prime Minister Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic, was among those in attendance.
The ceremony was similar to that of a reigning pope but with some modifications. Benedict was named pope emeritus during the funeral, and the language of some prayers was different because he was not the reigning pope when he died.
Francis started leading the mass Thursday morning, during which he gave a homily at about 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET). Members of the crowd later took part in a Communion.
“God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor,” Francis said as he delivered the homily.
“Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years. Together, we want to say: ‘Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.’
“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever,” Francis added.
Benedict’s coffin will then be transported through the Basilica and to the Vatican crypt for the burial, in the first tomb of John Paul II.
The tomb was vacated after John Paul II’s body and remains were moved to a chapel inside the Basilica after he became a saint.