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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Michael Fitzpatrick

World's Catholics focus on funeral of former pope Benedict

The lying-in-state of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. AP - Antonio Calanni

Pope Francis will lead the funeral later today, Thursday, in the Vatican's St Peter's Square before Benedict's remains are placed in the vaults beneath the basilica. He will be buried in the tomb which held pope John Paul II's remains until 2011.

The tomb of the Polish Pope is vacant since John Paul II was moved upstairs to the main floor of the basilica when he was beatified in 2011. John Paul has since been confirmed a saint.

Papal deaths usually trigger the calling of a conclave of cardinals to elect a successor, but this time Francis remains in post and will lead the funeral ceremonies.

The Vatican has yet to release details of the guest list, beyond saying it will include delegations from Italy and Germany.

Spain's royal household has announced that former queen Sofia, wife of ex-king Juan Carlos I, will attend the funeral. Polish President Andrzej Duda will also be present.

The presidents of Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Togo, and the premiers of the Czech Republic, Gabon and Slovakia among others are attending in a personal capacity.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who at the weekend joined world leaders from Joe Biden to Vladimir Putin in paying tribute to Benedict, was among the first to visit his body on Monday morning.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has signed a government decree making Thursday an official day of national mourning in honour of the deceased pontiff. The Portuguese head of state will attend the funeral ceremony.

An austere, private pope

The last papal funeral, of John Paul II in 2005, drew a million faithful and heads of state from around the world.

Benedict is unlikely to attract the same kind of crowd. He has been an ex-pope for longer than he was pontiff, and he was a more divisive and less accessible figure.

A brilliant theologian, he alienated many Catholics with his staunch defence of traditional values. He struggled to impose his authority on the church as it battled a string of crises, including over clerical sex abuse.

Although the two men got on well, many Vatican-watchers have suggested that the unprecedented co-habitation of two popes was a major source of tension for Francis.

Benedict had a very conservative approach to questions of doctrine, and the intellectual stature to support his opinions. Francis has tried to present a more open, less austere aspect of the top job in the Catholic Church.

Observers have also pointed to the fact that the departure of Benedict now leaves the way open for Francis to follow his predecessor in stepping down.

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