~by Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter
In one of the rarest scenes in two millennia of Catholic Church history, today, Pope Francis presided over the funeral Mass of his predecessor, the late Pope Benedict XVI, and offered a send-off to someone he extolled as a pastor who “spread and testified” to the Gospel for his entire life.
During a brief, seven-minute homily to a crowd of thousands gathered during a cool, foggy morning in St. Peter’s Square, Francis reflected on the life of Christ, marked by “hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing,” seemingly drawing a parallel to the same devotion in which Benedict served the church.
In the years since Benedict’s resignation, Francis has referred to his predecessor as a
“grandfather of all grandfathers” and often praised the wisdom Benedict offered as a retired pope living inside the Vatican walls.
Tens of thousands were present in St. Peter’s Square to witness an occasion that historians say has very little precedent. Before Benedict, the last pope to resign had been Gregory XII, who was forced to step down in 1415 to end a schism. The last pope to resign voluntarily had been Celestine V in 1294.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper was among those in St. Peter’s. “This resignation wasn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, a greatness because he saw that he was no longer up to the challenges of being pope,” said Kasper.
He added that Benedict’s resignation provided “a more human vision to the papacy, that the pope is a man and is dependent on his physical and mental strengths.”
As Francis offered his final tribute to his predecessor at the conclusion of his homily, the Pope called Benedict a “faithful friend” of God and prayed, “May your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever.” ~ Joshua McElwee contributed to this report
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