Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the shy German theologian who tried to reawaken Christianity in a secularised Europe but will forever be remembered as the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the job, died Saturday. He was 95.
Pope Francis will celebrate his funeral Mass in Saint Peter’s Square on Thursday, an unprecedented event in which a current pope will commemorate the funeral of a former one.
Benedict stunned the world on February 11, 2013, when he announced, in his typical, soft-spoken Latin, that he no longer had the strength to run the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church that he had steered for eight years through scandal and indifference.
His dramatic decision paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis as his successor. The two popes then lived side-by-side in the Vatican gardens, an unprecedented arrangement that set the stage for future “popes emeritus” to do the same.
A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni on Saturday morning said: “With sorrow, I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 [08:34 GMT] in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery in the Vatican. Further information will be released as soon as possible.”
The Vatican said Benedict’s remains would be on public display in Saint Peter’s Basilica starting Monday for the faithful to pay their final respects. Benedict’s request was that his funeral would be celebrated solemnly but with “simplicity”, Bruni told reporters.
He added that Benedict, whose health had recently deteriorated, had received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick on Wednesday, after his daily Mass, in the presence of his longtime secretary and the consecrated women who tend to his household.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had never wanted to be pope, planning at age 78 to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria.
Instead, he was forced to follow the footsteps of the beloved St John Paul II and run the church through the fallout of the clerical sex abuse scandal and then a second scandal that erupted when his own butler stole his personal papers and gave them to a journalist.
Being elected pope, he once said, felt like a “guillotine” had come down on him.
Nevertheless, he set about the job with a single-minded vision to rekindle the faith in a world that, he frequently lamented, seemed to think it could do without God.
“In vast areas of the world today, there is a strange forgetfulness of God,” he told a million young people gathered on a vast field for his first foreign trip as pope, to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. “It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him.”
With some decisive, often controversial moves, he tried to remind Europe of its Christian heritage. And he set the Catholic Church on a conservative, tradition-minded path that often alienated progressives.