More than 60,000 people see first day of Pope Benedict XVI lying in state at Vatican

People wait in a line to enter Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican where late Pope Benedict 16 is being laid in state at The Vatican, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
People wait in a line to enter Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, where the late Pope is lying in state. Credit: AP

More than 60,000 people attended the first day of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's lying in state, over double the initial estimate.

The doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the late pope's body is lying in state, opened for viewing by the public just after 9am (8am GMT) when the first faithful entered.

Italian security officials had said at least 25,000-30,000 people would come on Monday, but by the end of the day, more than 65,000 attended.Public viewing was set for 10 hours on Monday in the world-famous basilica, and the doors will reopen to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday for 12 hours before Thursday morning’s funeral, which will be led by Pope Francis, at St. Peter’s Square.

The frail 95-year-old Benedict died on Saturday morning in the Vatican monastery where he had lived since his retirement in 2013, when he became the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.

People look at the body of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI laid out in state inside St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: AP

Before the rank-and-file faithful were allowed into the basilica, prayers were recited and the basilica’s archpriest, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled holy water over the body and a small cloud of incense was released near the bier.

Benedict’s hands were clasped, a rosary around his fingers.

A few VIPs had a moment before the general public to pay their respects, including Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who in the past has professed admiration for the conservative leanings of Benedict.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella also came to view the body.

Nuns queue to say goodbye to the late Pope Emeritus Credit: AP

Filippo Tuccio, 35, came from Venice on an overnight train to view Benedict's body.

“I wanted to pay homage to Benedict because he had a key role in my life and my education. I arrived here at around 7.30, after leaving Venice last night," Mr Tuccio said.

Mr Tuccio added that he had studied theology, and “his pontificate accompanied me during my university years.”

"He was very important for me: for what I am, my way of thinking, my values. This is why I wanted to say goodbye today," he said.

As daylight broke, 10 white-gloved Papal Gentlemen — lay assistants to pontiffs and papal households — carried the body on a cloth-covered wooden stretcher up the centre aisle of the basilica to its resting place. A Swiss Guard saluted as the body was brought in via a side door after Benedict's remains were transferred in a van from the chapel of the monastery grounds where the former pontiff lived and died.

Officials expect at least 25,000 people to pass the body on the first day of viewing. Credit: AP

His longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and a handful of consecrated laywomen who served in Benedict's household, followed the van by foot in a silent procession toward the basilica.

Marina Ferrante, 62, from Rome, arrived an hour before the doors of St. Peter's opened, and grew emotional when she explained why she came.

Nuns arrive at dawn to view the body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Credit: AP

“I think his main legacy was teaching us how to be free,” she said. “He had a special intelligence in saying what was essential in his faith and that was contagious” for other faithful.

“The thing I thought when he died was that I would like to be as free as he was.”

On Monday, the Vatican confirmed widely reported burial plans.

Twelve hours of viewing have been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday's funeral. Credit: AP

In keeping with his wishes, Benedict’s tomb will be in the crypt of the grotto under the basilica that was last used by St. John Paul II, before the saint’s body was moved upstairs into the main basilica before his 2011 beatification, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The Vatican has said only two nations’ official delegations - from Italy and from Benedict’s native Germany - were invited formally to the funeral, since the pope emeritus was no longer head of state.While the shy and bookish German churchman and theologian, and the current Argentine-born pontiff, had different temperaments, Ms Ferrante said there is still a "continuity" between them.

"Whoever understands the real relationship between them and Christ can see that," she added.

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