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Why Was Pope Benedict's Funeral A Historic Moment?

Pope Francis sits behind the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the funeral mass at St. Peter's square on January 5, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Pope Francis sits behind the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the funeral mass at St. Peter's square on January 5, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Francis sits behind the coffin of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the funeral mass at St. Peter's square on January 5, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral in the Vatican City has seen thousands of supporters flock to pay their respects.

As the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City state between April 2005 and February 2013, Benedict’s death was always expected to be an occasion of great significance.

This funeral is particularly noteworthy though, because Benedict the first pope to step down for almost 600 years. His resignation in 2013 (due to ill health) meant he took the title of Pope Emeritus.

His funeral is therefore the first former pontiff’s in modern history which has been presided over by his successor – Pope Francis.

The cardinals (bishops and Vatican officials from all over the world) only choose a successor via secret ballot around 15 to 20 days after a papal vacancy, but Francis has already been the head of the Catholic Church for a decade.

Interestingly, Francis has also indicated that future popes could follow Benedict’s footsteps and retire rather than serve as the head of the Catholic Church until death.

Christopher Lamb of the Catholic magazine The Tablet suggested that Francis is now “more likely to step down now that Benedict has died” as well – although that would not necessarily happen any time soon.

Benedict himself was also a controversial figure, and considered to be on the more conservative side of the Church while his successor is perceived as more liberal.

As Lamb suggested: “I think we are going to be in for a turbulent time in the Church in the coming years because clearly there is a battle for the soul of the Church going on and there are different visions and different emphases.”

Benedict was already struggling with poor health when he became head of the Catholic church aged 78  – he was the oldest cardinal to do so since Clement XII was elected in 1730.

Benedict died on New Year’s Eve aged 95, almost a decade after his resignation. He will be buried in a crypt underneath St Peter’s Basilica, where the tombs of more than 90 previous pontiffs lie.

The Vatican claims more than 50,000 mourners gathered in St Peter’s Square in the city for the occasion.

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