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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Michael Fitzpatrick

Fifty thousand faithful pay final respects to ex-pope Benedict XVI

Roman Catholic leader Pope Francis presides over the funeral ceremonies of former Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. © REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Pope Francis, global leader of the Catholic church, presided over the funeral of his predecessor Benedict XVI on Thursday in the presence of tens of thousands of mourners in St Peter's Square in Rome.

Red-clad cardinals, dignitaries and thousands of priests and nuns from around the world gathered to say goodbye to Joseph Ratzinger, the German theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI and who stunned the Catholic church in 2013 by becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to resign.

Pope Francis delivered the homily in Italian.

"Benedict ... may your joy be complete as you hear God's voice, now and forever!" the pontiff said, directly addressing his predecessor, who died last Saturday at the age of 95.

At the end of the service, Francis made the sign of the cross over Benedict's simple wooden coffin and bowed his head, before 12 pallbearers carried it into St Peter's Basilica.

Benedict will be interred in the vault previously occupied by the remains of John Paul II until his beatification in 2011. The Polish Pope was made a saint in 2014.

Portugal pays national respects

World leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were among those in attendance.

The 90-year-old Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen attended after being granted permission by a court to travel following his arrest last year under the Chinese city's national security law.

An estimated 50,000 people gathered in St Peter's Square for the funeral, according to police.

Portugal declared a national day of mourning on Thursday, while in Italy, flags were flown at half-mast on public buildings.

The only official delegations were from Germany and Italy.

France was represented by Interior and Religious Affairs Minister Gérald Darmanin.

Other dignitaries, including members of the Belgian and Spanish royal families, the presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Slovenia and Togo, and the premiers of the Czech Republic, Gabon and Slovakia attended in a personal capacity.

An estimated 200,000 people filed past the dead pontiff's body while he lay in state this week. Among those paying their respects was the Hungarian Premier, Viktor Orban, who is a non-Catholic.

The proceedings were reported by more than 1,000 journalists from 30 different countries.

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