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Asian cardinals travel to Vatican to join rare papal funeral

The Jan. 5 requiem procedure will be a papal funeral with a few changes as Pope Benedict was not a reigning pope
The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lies in state at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, on Jan 3. Benedict, a conservative intellectual who in 2013 became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign, died on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95. His funeral is scheduled for Jan. 5 in the Vatican

The body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lies in state at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, on Jan 3. Benedict, a conservative intellectual who in 2013 became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign, died on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95. His funeral is scheduled for Jan. 5 in the Vatican. (Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/ AFP)

Published: January 04, 2023 12:09 PM GMT
Updated: January 04, 2023 12:37 PM GMT

At least 15 cardinals from Asia will be attending the funeral of retired Pope Benedict tomorrow in the Vatican in a ceremony unprecedented in six centuries that will see a reigning pope leading the requiem procedure.

Besides the cardinals, most heads of Asia’s national bishops’ conferences will also join the global Catholic hierarchy for the funeral of Pope Benedict who died at 95 of age-related illness on Dec. 31.

The Jan. 5 requiem procedure will be a papal funeral but with a few changes to fit with the fact that Pope Benedict was not the reigning pope, and he has not left behind the Petrine Seat vacant.

"The liturgical celebration follows the model of a funeral service for a supreme pontiff, broadly speaking," Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters on Jan. 3.

The funeral rite will have "some new elements that give the rite its originality and some missing elements, which are those that are more pertinent to a reigning pontiff," Bruni said.

For example, there are no final prayers offered by representatives of the Diocese of Rome and of the Eastern Catholic churches, since those prayers are specific to the death of a reigning pope, who is bishop of the Diocese of Rome and is in communion with the leaders of the Eastern-rite churches.

However, most heads of the Eastern rite Churches are expected at the funeral, said a priest of Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Church, one of the two Eastern rite Churches in India.

Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the major archbishop of Syro-Malanakara Church, has already left for Rome to attend the funeral.

“Some 15 Asian cardinals will be attending it,” said a priest linked with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. He said since the prelates are traveling independently, unconnected with any particular organization, it was not possible to get exact details.

Changed funeral procedure

Pope Benedict's body was dressed in a red chasuble as it laid first in the chapel of his residence and then in St. Peter's Basilica for the faithful to pay their respects. The red, a liturgical color symbolizing a willingness to shed one's blood for the faith, is the color vestments popes traditionally are buried in. Cardinals usually are buried in a white chasuble.

But unlike the protocol for a pope who died in office, Pope Benedict's body did not have his pallium, a woolen stole worn around the shoulders, or a crozier or the ferula, the pastoral staff. Bruni said he would be buried with his "palliums," like a retired archbishop is.

However, he said he did not know the exact number of stoles or which they were. The late pope received one as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; one as cardinal-bishop of Ostia and dean of the College of Cardinals; and one as pope.

The ferula is never buried with a pope, he added.

The fisherman's ring that he wore as the pope had been destroyed a few days after his resignation in 2013. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman at the time, had told reporters that the ring was not smashed or destroyed completely; rather, two deep cuts were made in its face so that it could no longer be used as a seal.

In retirement, Pope Benedict reportedly returned to wearing the ring he had worn as a cardinal. Photos of his hands in death showed his ring had a large cross on the face; his fisherman's ring had an image of St. Peter.

No official political representation

Although many cardinals have said they will come to Rome for the late pope's funeral and all have been invited to concelebrate the Mass, they were not convoked to do so, unlike what would have happened if Pope Benedict had still been in office.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said the only official government delegations present will be those from Italy, where Pope Benedict had served as bishop of Rome, and from Germany, his homeland.

However, several heads of state and other dignitaries announced plans to attend. As of Jan. 3, they included: Spain's Queen Mother Sofia and Félix Bolaños, a government minister; King Philippe of Belgium; Polish President Andrzej Duda; Portuguese President Marcelo Nuno Duarte Rebelo de Sousa; Markus Söder, governor of Bavaria; and Hungarian President Katalin Novak.

And, like popes before him, he will be buried in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican confirmed his tomb would be in the same small chapel where St. John Paul II's tomb was until 2011 and where St. John XXIII's tomb was until 2001.

Roughly same, but not the same

The Rite of Reception when his body was brought into St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 2 was more elaborate than the rite for most baptized Christians, but it was simpler than the rite used when St. John Paul II's body was transferred to the basilica for public viewing in 2005.

When the Polish pope died, 12 pallbearers carried his body from the Clementine Hall, down the broad Noble Stairway, through several frescoed rooms on the first floor of the Apostolic Palace, down the Royal Stairway and through the Bronze Doors. They carried the body into the middle of St. Peter's Square, where thousands of people were waiting, then into the basilica through the central doors.

Pope Benedict's body was driven to a side entrance to the basilica, the Door of Prayer, and then carried in by 10 pallbearers as the men of the Sistine Chapel choir sang the litany of saints.

The cardinal camerlengo or chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church presides over the rite of reception of a reigning pope's body; with Pope Benedict, it was the cardinal archpriest of the basilica.

And while cardinals, bishops and priests around the world are expected to offer memorial Masses for the late Pope Benedict – both before and after his funeral on Jan. 5 – the Vatican had said nothing as of Jan. 3 about a "novendiali," which are nine days of memorial Masses celebrated at the Vatican and at the major basilicas of Rome.

Bruni, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters on Jan. 3 that the funeral would be "roughly" the same as a funeral for a pope who died in office.

The night before the funeral, he said, the late pope's body would be placed in a cypress casket. Medals and coins minted during his pontificate will be placed inside as well, along with a metal cylinder containing the "rogito," a brief text describing his pontificate.

After the funeral, the cypress casket will be placed inside a zinc casket and then inside a casket made of oak and buried.

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