The remains of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI were interred in the crypt beneath St Peter’s Basilica in Rome following a funeral Mass on Thursday morning celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals. Pope Francis officiated and delivered the sermon.
Among the Irish attendance were Irish Ambassador to the Holy See Frances Collins; Catholic Primate of All Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell.
Leading secular figures at the funeral were German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier and chancellor Olaf Scholz, recognising that Benedict was the first German pope in more than 500 years, as well as Italian president Sergio Mattarella and prime minister Giorgia Meloni in acknowledgment of Benedict’s service as bishop of Rome – as is every pope.
In advance of the funeral the Vatican had said that the presence of other official delegations (apart from Italy and Germany) was not envisaged at Benedict’s funeral. However, the attendance included Queen Sofía of Spain, mother of King Felipe, as well as King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium.
The UK was represented by education secretary Gillian Keegan as well as Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Heads of state from Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Togo and Hungary were expected to attended as did representatives of other Christian denominations and of the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.
Before the Mass began in a foggy Rome, bells slowly tolled and 12 white-gloved pallbearers brought the cypress coffin containing the late pope’s remains into St Peter’s Square, placing it on a platform in front of the altar. Msgr Diego Ravelli and Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s personal secretary, placed the Book of the Gospels on top of the casket.
Archbishop Gänswein kissed the casket before walking away.
The second reading at the funeral Mass was by Mary Maguire from the Raphoe Cathedral parish in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, where she does extensive work with the Society of St Vincent de Paul. It is understood this was arranged through Msgr Kevin Gillespie, the administrator in Letterkenny, who formerly worked at the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican where he also acted as master of ceremonies for pope Benedict.
Msgr Gillespie said he had been contacted by the funeral organisers who were looking for an English speaker to do a reading, “and I thought of Mary who, as you saw, is a good reader. She and her husband, Kieran, run the St Vincent de Paul hostel in Letterkenny and are very active in the parish”.
Ms Maguire’s choice as reader at the funeral may have been “somewhat accidental but it was a great blessing”, he said.
Earlier, placed in the coffin along with Benedict’s body were medals from his pontificate and a text describing his eight years leading the church from 2005 to 2013.
With 125 cardinals in place to one side of the altar, the funeral for the 265th pope was told by Pope Francis, in reference to Benedict, “we pray that having served as the vicar of your Son on earth, he may be welcomed by him into eternal glory.”
Benedict died on Saturday morning, New Year’s Eve, in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery where he had resided since he resigned as pope and Vatican head of state in February 2013.
His remains have been lying in state since Monday last and an estimated 200,000 people paid their respects there over the three days preceding his funeral on Thursday.
He was buried in the tomb which once held the remains of Pope John Paul II before his beatification by Pope Benedict in 2011, when the former’s remains were removed to an altar in St Peter’s Basilica.