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Funeral of Benedict XVI begins

Led by Pope Francis, the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI began at 09:30 am local time on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican.

More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony to bid the last goodbye to Pope Benedict who passed away on Saturday at the age of 95.

Expected are official delegations from Italy and Benedict’s native Germany. Other leaders, including Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, the king and queen of Belgium and about 12 other heads of state or government, will attend in a private capacity. Most countries will be represented by their ambassadors to the Vatican.

As the lying-in-state concluded on Wednesday evening, the late pope’s body was placed in a cypress coffin which was closed privately in the presence of a handful of close aides. Among them were his long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, and other members of the household where he lived after he resigned from the papacy in 2013, the first pope to do so in 600 years.

Also placed inside his coffin were papal items such as vestments symbolising his role as pope and bishop, coins and medals that were minted during his pontificate, but also a lead tube with a deed in Latin listing the key points in his pontificate.

Benedict’s coffin left St. Peter’s Basilica around 8:45 am where it was laid out for arrivals to pay respects. As the coffin was being carried out on the shoulders of ushers known as papal gentlemen, the faithful prayed the rosary. The coffin was placed on the steps facing St. Peter’s Square.

The funeral Mass

Presided over by Pope Francis, the funeral Mass started at 9:30 a.m.

Francis is expected to first sit before the coffin facing the crowd. The Sistine Chapel choir will start its singing with the introductory rites.

Pope Francis will then move to a chair at the side of the altar and preside from there. Due to a knee ailment, he will be seated most of the time. The celebrant standing at the altar will be Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals.

Francis will deliver the homily at the Mass, which will be con-celebrated by 120 cardinals, 400 bishops and nearly 4,000 priests, Reuters reported.

Francis is to wrap up the Mass reciting “The Final Commendation and Farewell” asking God to “console the Church”. This moment will also see Francis sprinkle holy water on the coffin and incense it.

The liturgy for the funeral Mass is based mostly on that for a pope who dies while reigning, with some minor modifications, particularly in a few prayers and readings. One prayer will include petitions to God for both Benedict and Francis.

The burial

The pallbearers will then take the cypress coffin back into the basilica for a private service in which it will be sealed and wrapped in ribbons. Then the coffin will be placed into a zinc coffin, which will be soldered shut. Both will then be lowered into a larger, wooden coffin.

The bodily remains of Benedict will then be buried according to his wishes in the same spot in the crypts under St. Peter’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II was originally interred in 2005 before his body was moved up to a chapel in the basilica in 2011.

The burial will also be a private service.

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