Pope Francis celebrates New Year as Vatican prepares to mourn Benedict

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Day Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, a day after the pope emeritus Benedict XVI died in retirement in the Vatican.
The huge basilica will host Benedict’s coffin from Monday. Thousands of devotees are expected for the first of three viewing days.
Benedict, 95, died Saturday morning at the Vatican where he had resided since his retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to step down, citing his growing frailty.
Francis looked tired 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 left his written homily to pray aloud for Benedict, imploring the Virgin Mary to “accompany him in his passage into the hands” of God.
The pontiff will lead Benedict XVI’s funeral on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. This rite will be simple, the Vatican said, in accordance with the wishes of Benedict XVI, who for decades as a German cardinal had been the guardian of the Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy before being elected pope in 2005.
In recent years, Francis has hailed Benedict’s astonishing decision to become the first pope to step down in 600 years and made it clear that he would consider such a step as an option for himself.
Hampered by knee pain, Francis, 86, arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair on Sunday, before taking a seat on a chair for the mass celebrated by the Vatican secretary of state.
Francis, who has repeatedly decried the war in Ukraine and its ravages, recalled those who are victims of war, spending the end of year celebrations in darkness, cold and fear.
“At the start of this year, we need hope, just like the Earth needs rain,” Francis said.


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