Tens of thousands of Catholics paid their respects to Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, in St. Peter’s square on Wednesday, where his body was lying in state before it was to be sealed in a coffin in preparation for his funeral the following day.
Some traveled from abroad to view his body and honor his memory, while others vacationing in Rome took the opportunity to come to St. Peter’s Basilica to honor the former pope, who resigned in 2013, the first pontiff to do so in six centuries. He died on Saturday.
“It was beautiful to see him,” said Stefania Isaila, 42, who flew in from Romania to attend Benedict’s funeral with a friend. “He appeared happy to be with God, the encounter that he has always talked about.”
Ms. Isaila entered the basilica at 7 a.m., among the first to do so on Wednesday, before large lines formed, and stayed to attend a Mass in Benedict’s honor. She said she was raised Catholic and that while John Paul II was the pope that she grew up with, “I really loved Benedict.”
“I appreciated his clarity of thought and his deep faith,” she said, sitting in the sun on steps outside an area cordoned off for security checks. “His sensitivity was harder to understand, but he felt very close to me.”
Between 65,000 and 70,000 people visited his body on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Vatican. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni came to pay their respects to the pope on Monday. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary sat in prayer before Benedict’s body.
“We came to say goodbye one last time,” said Corrado Luigi, 76, a retiree from Rome who also attended John Paul II’s funeral in 2005.
“We came for a different reason, but we are also going to view Benedict,” said Patrizia Berrettini, 50, who had planned a tour of the Vatican with her family months ago, as she waited for the security checks to see Benedict’s body. “We owe it to him. Standing in line is no sacrifice for us.”
Benedict succeeded John Paul II, who died after years of serious illness and declining health. When Benedict resigned in 2013, he had reigned for almost eight years in a difficult time for the church, plagued by scandals, and became the first pope in 600 years to resign. When he died on Saturday at age 95, he had been pope emeritus for almost nine years.
Since his death, Pope Francis has been carrying out his regular duties, meeting church officials and holding public events.
At his weekly general audience inside the Vatican on Wednesday, just steps away from the basilica where Benedict lay in state, Pope Francis opened his remarks with a reference to the faithful lining up outside to see Benedict. Francis praised his predecessor, who was known for his scholarly intellect, as a “master of catechesis.”
The crowds inside the auditorium applauded.
“His acute and gentle thought was not self-referential, but ecclesial, because he always wanted to accompany us in the encounter with Jesus,” Francis said.
After 7 p.m. on Wednesday, when the viewing closes to the public, Vatican officials will place Benedict’s body in a coffin made of cypress wood for the public funeral. The coffin will also contain commemorative medals and coins minted during Benedict’s papacy, an account of his time as pope written in Latin and his pallium stoles — wool vestments worn around the neck by pontiffs to symbolize their roles as shepherds of their flocks.
On Thursday morning, his coffin will be carried out in front of St. Peter’s for a public Mass presided over by Francis, with tens of thousands expected to be in attendance.
Only Italy and Benedict’s native Germany will send official delegations, as he was no longer a reigning pontiff when he died. Representatives of other countries will participate in a private capacity, including the presidents of Poland and Hungary and the monarchs of Spain and Belgium.
Since he was no longer pope when he died, Benedict did not lie in state with his papal regalia, such as the pallium. But the liturgy for his funeral will largely resemble that of a sitting pope, with some changes to the prayers, according to a Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni.
After the funeral, Vatican officials will place his cypress coffin inside another one made of zinc, and then a second wooden coffin. Benedict will then be buried, according to his wishes, in the grottos underneath the basilica, a crypt that was once occupied by John Paul II. He was moved in 2011, when he was beatified in a first step to sainthood.