By FRANCES D’EMILIO
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Day Mass Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, a day after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in retirement at the Vatican.
The huge basilica will host Benedict’s coffin starting on Monday. Thousands of faithful are expected to file by the coffin on the first of three days of viewing.
Benedict, 95, died Saturday morning in the Vatican where he had lived since retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to resign, citing his increasing frailty.
Francis looked weary and sat with his head bowed as Mass began on the first day of the year, an occasion the Catholic church dedicates to the theme of peace.
He departed briefly from reading his homily, with its emphasis on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.
“Today we entrust to our Blessed Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, so that she may accompany him in his passage from this world to God,” he said.
The pontiff will lead Benedict’s funeral on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. That rite will be a simple one, the Vatican has said, in keeping with the wishes of Benedict, who for decades as a German cardinal had served as the Church’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy before he was elected pope in 2005.
Francis went to pay his respects to Benedict immediately after the retired pontiff died, after receiving a call from the Rev. Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s longtime secretary. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis stayed in Benedict’s monastery for quite some time before returning to the hotel that serves as his home, across the Vatican Gardens.
In the last years, Francis has hailed Benedict’s stunning decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years and has made clear he’d consider such a step as an option for himself.
Hobbled by knee pain, Francis, 86, on Sunday arrived in the basilica in a wheelchair, before taking his place in a chair for the Mass, which was being celebrated by the Vatican’s secretary of state.
Francis, who has repeatedly decried the war in Ukraine and its devastation, recalled those who are victims of war, passing the year-end holidays in darkness, cold and fear.
“At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the Earth needs rain,” Francis said.
Nicole Winfield contributed from the Vatican.
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