Pope Francis prays for Benedict XVI as Vatican prepares to mourn former pontiff

Pope Francis has prayed for his predecessor Benedict XVI at a special New Year's Day Mass.

At the service in St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the pontiff prayed aloud for Benedict and implored the Virgin Mary to "accompany him in his passage to the hands" of God.

It comes after the Pope Emeritus, as Benedict was known after he became the first pontiff to resign in 600 years in 2013, died aged 95 on Saturday.

The Vatican said Benedict's body will lie in state in St Peter's Basilica from Monday.

Until then, it will remain in the small monastery within the Vatican where he lived.

Benedict's funeral will be held on Thursday in St Peter's Square in front of the basilica and will be presided over by Pope Francis.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the funeral would be simple, solemn and sober to follow Benedict's wishes.

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In the last few years Pope Francis celebrated Benedict's decision to resign and has suggested he would consider such a move as an option for himself.

Suffering knee pain, the 86-year-old pope arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair before the Mass on the first day of the new year, an occasion the Catholic church dedicates to the theme of peace.

The pope, who has repeatedly spoken out against the war in Ukraine, mentioned those who are victims of war, passing the year-end holidays in darkness, cold and fear.

"At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the Earth needs rain," he said.