Pope Benedict XVI funeral: Pope Francis leads Catholics in farewell to ex-pontiff at the Vatican

Julie Etchingham reports on the funeral from the Vatican City

Pope Francis presided at the funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, as thousands of mourners gathered in St Peter's Square at the Vatican to pay tribute to the late pontiff.

Heads of state, royalty and clergy from around the world flocked to the Vatican to pay tribute to the ex-pontiff, who will be buried in a crypt beneath St Peter's Basilica.

Pope Francis presiding over the funeral marks the first time a sitting Pope has led his predecessor's funeral in over 200 years, according to the Vatican.

Scenes of the funeral mass at the Vatican. Credit: AP

The frail 95-year-old Benedict died last 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.

The Vatican said some 50,000 people attended the Mass on Thursday, after some 200,000 paid their respects during the three days of public viewing.

Italy ordered that flags around the country be flown at half staff to mark the historic occasion.

Mourners attended the ceremony as the sun slowly broke through the fog in Rome. Credit: AP
Thousands of people attended the funeral mass for the late Pope. Credit: AP

ITV News Presenter Julie Etchingham was among those who attended the ceremony.

She said Pope Francis, who has been using a wheelchair, invited the mourners to an act of confession, describing the ceremony as "sombre".

“Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father,” the Pope said at the end of his homily.

Priests stand during the funeral mass for late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square. Credit: AP

"Moving to see Pope Francis deep in thought and prayer just feet away from his predecessor’s coffin - he stands truly alone now at the head of the Church," Julie Etchingham tweeted.

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Following gospel readings, dozens of priests were seen walking into St Peter's Square to help administer the Communion.

The mass was jointly officiated by 125 cardinals, 200 bishops and some 3,700 priests.

Pope Francis stands next to the coffin of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Credit: AP

Incense was waved over the coffin at the closing of the service, as the choir sang may the angels lead you into paradise.

The former Pope's casket will later be sealed in a zinc coffin and placed into an oak case - before he is laid to rest in the crypt where St John Paul was originally at rest.

While Thursday’s Mass was unusual, it does have some precedent: In 1802, Pope Pius VII presided over the funeral in St. Peter’s of his predecessor, Pius VI, who had died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon.

The Vatican 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.

Before sun was up on Thursday - the air around St Peter’s filled with the sound of Bavarian drumming.

Many mourners who came throughout the day hailed from Benedict’s native Bavaria and wore traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to shield then against the morning cold.

The air around St Peter’s filled with the sound of Bavarian drumming. Credit: AP

“We came to pay homage to Benedict and wanted to be here today to say goodbye,” said Raymond Mainar, who travelled from a small village east of Munich for the funeral. “He was a very good pope.”

Pope Francis has previously praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” to other popes doing the same.

The reigning pontiff also recently said he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions in which he too would resign.

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