Pope receives New Year before arrangements to watch over Benedict

Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage into heaven and again expressed thanks for a lifetime of service to the Church during his New Year presentations, a day after the death of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

St. Peter’s Basilica, where Francis presided over a mid-morning New Year’s mass, will house Benedict’s mortal remains starting Monday. Thousands of faithful are expected to pass by the coffin on the first of the three days of the funeral chapel.

Benedict, 95, died Saturday morning at the Vatican, where he had lived since his resignation. He was the first pope to leave office in centuries, for which he argued that he was becoming increasingly fragile.

Francis looked tired and sat with his head bowed at the start of New Year’s Eve Mass, an occasion the Catholic Church dedicates to the theme of peace.

For a moment he stopped reading his homily, focused on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.

“Today we entrust to our Holy Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to accompany him on his way from this world to God,” he added.

Later, Francis made more remarks about the retired pontiff when he offered his New Year’s greetings to the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

 

Referring to the Virgin Mary, Francis said that “in these hours, we invoke her intercession, in particular for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who, yesterday morning, departed from this world.”

“Let us all unite together, with one heart and one soul, in thanking God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and of the Church,” Francis declared, addressing the pilgrims and tourists from a window of the Apostolic Palace.

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The funeral of Benedict headed by Francis will take place in the square on Thursday morning. The rite will be simple, the Vatican said, to comply with the wishes of Benedict, who for decades as a German cardinal had served as guardian of the Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy before being elected to the post in 2005.

In recent years, Francis has applauded his predecessor’s surprising decision to become the first pontiff to resign in 600 years and has made it clear that he, too, might consider that option.

Limping with knee pain, the 86-year-old Argentine pontiff arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair before taking his place for mass, which was celebrated by the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Francis, who has repeatedly criticized the war in Ukraine and its devastation, reminded the victims of the conflict, who spend the end-of-year holidays in the dark, cold and afraid.

“At this beginning of the year we need hope, just as the Earth needs water,” he declared in his homily.

Addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis mentioned the “intolerable” war in Ukraine, which began in February last year with the Russian invasion, and in other parts of the world.

Despite this, the pontiff said, “let us not lose hope” that peace will prevail. “Throughout the world, in all the towns, a cry is rising: ‘no to war, no to rearmament’, but that the resources go to development, health, food, education, work.”

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