A steady stream of tens of thousands of people filed into St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday to pay their respects to former Pope Benedict XVI, whose body was laying in state without any papal paraphernalia ahead of his funeral this week.
Benedict died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the secluded Vatican monastery where he had lived since his shock resignation in 2013.
“I feel like he was a grandfather to us,” Veronica Siegal, 16, a Catholic high school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is in Rome for a programme of religious study, told Reuters in St. Peter’s Square after viewing the body.
She said she had read one of Benedict’s books on Jesus for one of her courses.
“I know that he is in a better place because he was a holy man and he led so well,” said her classmate, Molly Foley, also 16, from Atlanta, Georgia. A third girl in the group wore an American flag on her back.
Benedict’s body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments and placed on a simple dais, was moved in a procession just before dawn through the Vatican Gardens from the monastery to a spot in front of the main altar of Christendom’s largest Church.
Two Swiss Guards stood at attention on either side of the body, which bore no papal insignia or regalia, such as a crosier, the silver staff with a crucifix, or a pallium, a band of cloth worn around the neck worn by archdiocesan bishops.
Both were on Pope John Paul’s body when it lay in state in 2005.
It was not clear if the pastoral cross or any other items he used will be buried with him but the decision not to have them during the public viewing appeared to have been decided to underscore that he no longer was pope when he died.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Benedict will be buried according to his wishes in the same spot in the crypts under St. Peter’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II was originally interred in 2005 before his body was moved up to a chapel in the basilica in 2011.