VATICAN CITY, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Pope Francis marked the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional World Day of Peace on Sunday, but the start of the new year at the Vatican was overshadowed by the death of his predecessor, Benedict.
Francis presided over the Mass at St Peter’s Basilica as the body of Benedict, who died on Saturday at the age of 95, was prepared for public viewing in the same church for three days starting Monday.
On Sunday, the Vatican released the first pictures of the late Benedict, dressed in red and gold liturgical robes, as he lay in state in the chapel of the monastery where he died.
Following Pope John Paul’s death in 2005, his body would be transferred privately to the basilica, his body being moved in a solemn outdoor procession, broadcast live around the world.
In keeping with Benedict’s wishes, his funeral on Thursday will be simple and solemn. It was the first time in centuries that a sitting pope had presided over the funeral of his predecessor. Benedict, who stepped down in 2013, became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
Jan. The 1st is the feast of the Mother of God. And in his eulogy, Francis asked Madonna to accompany “our beloved” Pope Emeritus Benedict “as he passes from this world to God.”
Benedict also remembered in one of the prayers of the Mass.
In his homily, Francis asked us to actively work for peace, not to “waste our time glued to the keyboard in front of the computer screen” but to “get our hands dirty and do some good.”
Later in his Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Francis made another appeal for an end to the conflict in Ukraine, which he called an “intolerable contrast” with the theme of the day.
Praise, but also criticism for good
The Vatican released a two-page “spiritual testimony” written in 2006, a year after Benedict was elected pope, on Saturday night. There is no explanation as to why Benedict did not renew it as he grew older and more frail.
In it, he asked in a general, spiritual way that God would welcome him into the inner life “despite all my sins and defects.”
On Saturday Francis called Benedict a noble, loving man who was a gift to the Church and the world.
While world leaders and conservative members of the faithful continued to pay tribute to the former pope, others sharply criticized his pontificate.
Few recall his harsh discipline of progressive theologians, especially in Latin America, when he was head of the Vatican’s theological department under Pope John Paul II. Those actions prompted liberal Catholics to call then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger “God’s Rottweiler.”
While some have praised Benedict for taking important steps to streamline the Vatican’s response to clerical sexual abuse, victims’ groups have accused him of protecting the institution at all costs.
“In our view, the death of Pope Benedict XVI is a reminder that, like John Paul II, Benedict was more concerned about the church’s deteriorating image and order than understanding the concept of financial flow and genuine forgiveness for victims of abuse,” said the anti-abuse group SNAP.
Like many other Vatican officials who worked with Benedict, Canadian Cardinal Mark Ouellet said he believed the German pontiff left “a great legacy” as a man of God and a man of culture.
“I believe that a deep rethinking of the Christian faith in the face of the challenges of our time is a task for the future,” Ouellet told Reuters.
Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Crispian Palmer and Frances Kerry
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