King Charles expresses ‘deep sadness’ after death of former Pope Benedict

ITV News' Julie Etchingham looks back at the life of former pope Benedict XVI

The King has praised former Pope Benedict XVI’s “constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people” after his death aged 95.

On Saturday, the Vatican said he died at 9.34am in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery - just days after Pope Francis asked for "special prayers" for his "very sick" predecessor.

King Charles expressed his “deep sadness” at Benedict’s death in a message to his successor Pope Francis, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also paid tribute.

The former Pope met the Queen in Edinburgh and made a speech at Westminster Hall during the historic visit in 2010, becoming just the second pontiff to come to the UK and "strengthening" relations in the process, the King said.

The Queen with Pope Benedict XVI Credit: David Cheskin/PA

The King said: “Your Holiness, I received the news of the death of your predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with deep sadness.

“I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009. His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

“I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

“My wife and I send you our continued good wishes for your own pontificate. Charles R.”

Pope Francis, meanwhile, praised his predecessor's “kindness” in his first public comments since the death of the retired pontiff. Francis thanked Benedict on Saturday for “his testimony of faith and prayer, especially in these final years of retired life.” Speaking during a New Year’s Eve vigil, Francis said only God knew “of his sacrifices offered for the good of the church.”

Pope Francis, right, hugs Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the former Convent Mater Ecclesiae at the Vatican in 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP, File

US President Joe Biden said that the former Pope “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.” Mr Biden - a church-going Catholic - issued a statement recalling a meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011, as he described Benedict’s “generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation.” The US president said: “May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

Adding to the tributes, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Benedict as “a global leader whose devotion, scholarship and hopeful message stirred the hearts of people of all faiths.”

Benedict was the leader of the Catholic Church for almost eight years until 2013, when he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, citing his old age and declining health.

The Vatican said Benedict’s remains would be on public display in St. Peter’s Basilica starting from Monday for the faithful to pay their final respects.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, hailed Benedict as “one of the greatest theologians of his age”, saying in a statement he was “committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence”.

He added: “In all things, not least in his writing and his preaching, he looked to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. It was abundantly clear that Christ was the root of his thought and the basis of his prayer.

“In 2013 Pope Benedict took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy, the first Pope to do so since the fifteenth century. In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all.

“In his retirement in Rome he has led a life of prayer and now he has gone to the eternal rest granted by the Father.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid tribute to the late former pontiff, writing: "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."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also tweeted a tribute, which said: “His state visit in 2010 was a historic and joyous moment for Catholics in Britain.”

Joseph Ratzinger was elected as the 265th pope on April 19 2005, aged 78, and chose the name Benedict.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales will celebrate Requiem Masses for the repose of the soul of the late Pope Emeritus in their cathedrals.

Prayer cards have been distributed to Catholic parishes throughout the two countries.

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