European leaders pay tribute to former Pope Benedict XVI

Bells rang out in St Peter's Square in Rome on Saturday for the former Pope Benedict XVI who died aged 95.

Benedict XVI led the Catholic church for almost eight years, before becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the job in 2013.

"The funerals will be on Thursday this coming week, Thursday 5 January, at 09:30 on St Peter's Square, and they will be presided over by Pope Francis," confirmed Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni.

"From the morning on Monday, the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in the Basilica of Saint Peter, where the faithful can go with their prayers for a last meeting with the Pope Emeritus, to greet him and to say goodbye."

European leaders have taken to social media to commemorate the former Pope, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who described Benedict XVI as a "special church leader" and "clever theologian."

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called Benedict XVI a "giant of faith and reason", while French President Emmanuel Macron wrote that Benedict XVI "worked with soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world".

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote "I am saddened to learn of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was an historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country."

My thoughts are with Catholic people in the UK and around the world today," he added.

Pope Francis will preside over the funeral in St. Peter's Square in Rome on Thursday.