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Death of former Pope Benedict overshadows New Year at Vatican

Pope Francis observed the traditional World Day of Peace for the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday (1 January), but the beginning of the new year at Vatican was overshadowed when Benedict died.

Francis presided over a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, as Benedict’s body, who died Saturday (31 December) at 95, was being prepared to be displayed in the same church for three days starting Monday (2 January).

The Vatican released Sunday’s first images of Benedict. They show him in red and golden liturgical vestments, and lying in state in the chapel at the monastery where his death occurred.

His body will be privately moved to the basilica in contrast to what happened after the 2005 death of Pope John Paul. This was unlike the solemn outdoor procession which was broadcast live around the globe.

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His funeral will be solemn and simple in accordance with Benedict’s wishes. This will be the first time that a sitting pope has presided at the funeral of his predecessor in many centuries. Benedict, who was elected in 2013, was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.

1 January also marked the feast of Mother of God. In his homily Francis requested that the Madonna accompany Pope Emeritus Benedict on his “passage from this world to God”.

In one of the Mass prayers, Benedict was also mentioned.

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Francis encouraged his listeners in his homily to actively work for peace and not to “waste time glued on a keyboard in front a computer screen”, but to “dirty their hands and do some good”.

Later, at his Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis appealed for an end of the conflict in Ukraine. He said it was “intolerable contradiction” to the theme.

PRAISE, BUT ALSO CRITICISM FOR BENEDICT

Saturday night, the Vatican released Benedict’s two-page “spiritual testimony” from 2006, one year after his election to pope. It was not clear why Benedict didn’t update it as he grew older and frailer.

He asked God in a general spiritual way if he would accept him into his internal life, “despite all of my sins, insufficiencies”.

On Saturday, Francis called Benedict a noble and kind man who was an inheritance for the churches and the whole world.

While world leaders and conservative members were still paying tribute to the former pope, many others were harshly critical of his pontificate.

Many people recall the harsh discipline he used on progressive theologians in Latin America when he was the head of the Vatican’s Doctrinal Department under Pope John Paul II. Liberal Catholics dubbed Joseph Ratzinger, then Cardinal, “God’s Rottweiler” for his actions.

While some credit Benedict for taking significant steps to formalize the Vatican’s response against clergy sexual abuse, victims groups accuse him of protecting the institution at any cost.

The anti-abuse group SNAP stated that Pope Benedict XVI’s death is a reminder of how, much like John Paul II was, Benedict was more concerned with the Church’s deteriorating image, financial flow to the hierarchy, than grasping the concept true apologies, followed by true amnesty to victims of abuse.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, like many Vatican officials who had worked with Benedict, said that he believed the German pontiff left behind a “great legacy” as a man of God and man of culture.

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