Thousands line up to see former pope Benedict’s body lying in state

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's body is lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica, and thousands of people lined up hours before dawn on Monday to pay their respects.

95-year-old died Saturday morning in the Vatican monastery

Thousands of people lined up hours before dawn on Monday to pay their respects to pope emeritus Benedict XVI as his body lies in state in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

The doors of the basilica were swung open so members of the public could pay respects to the late pontiff, who shocked the world in 2013 by retiring from the papacy, the first to do so in 600 years.

The frail, 95-year-old Benedict died Saturday morning in the Vatican monastery where he had lived since his retirement.

Among those coming to the basilica viewing was Cardinal Walter Kasper, like Benedict, a German theologian. Kasper served as head of the Vatican's Christian unity office during Benedict's papacy.

Benedict left an "important mark" on theology and spirituality, but also on the history of the papacy with his courage to step aside, Kasper told The Associated Press.

"This resignation wasn't a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, a greatness because he saw that he was no longer up to the challenges of being pope," Kasper said.

WATCH | Body of former pope Benedict lies in state:
Thousands of people have been lining up outside St. Peter’s Basilica to pay their respects to former pope Benedict XVI as his body lies in state in the Vatican. The crowds have been large, but not nearly as big as those for John Paul II.

Kasper, who was among the cardinals who elected Benedict to the papacy in 2005, added that the resignation decision gave "a more human vision to the papacy: that the pope is a man and is dependent on his physical and mental strengths."

Filippo Tuccio, 35, came from Venice on an overnight train to view Benedict's body.

"I wanted to pay homage to Benedict because he had a key role in my life and my education. I arrived here at around 7:30, after leaving Venice last night," Tuccio said.

"When I was young I participated in World Youth Days," said the pilgrim, referring to the jamborees of young faithful held periodically and attended by pontiffs. Tuccio added that he had studied theology, and "his pontificate accompanied me during my university years."

"He was very important for me: for what I am, my way of thinking, my values. This is why I wanted to say goodbye today."

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 II's body when it lay in state in 2005.

While the number of visitors was large, there were no signs of the huge crowds who came to pay their respects to John Paul, when millions waited for hours to enter the basilica.

Security officials expected at least 25,000 people to pass by the body on the first day of viewing. Italian state television said around 10,000 people had viewed Benedict's body after about four hours.

At two sides of the piazza's colonnade, viewers went through the usual security measures required for tourists entering the basilica — passing through metal detectors and screening bags through an X-ray machine.

Public viewing for Benedict was to last for 10 hours on Monday in St. Peter's Basilica. Twelve hours of viewing are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday morning's funeral, which will be led by Pope Francis, at St. Peter's Square. The Vatican has said it will be a simple and solemn ceremony.

On Monday, the Vatican confirmed widely reported burial plans. In keeping with his wishes, Benedict's tomb will be placed in the crypt of the grotto under the basilica that was last used by St. John Paul II, before the saint's body was moved upstairs into the main basilica before his 2011 beatification, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said.

WATCH | Faithful gather on Sunday to pay tribute to Benedict XVI:
Catholics are flocking to the Vatican to pay their respects to pope emeritus Benedict ahead of his lying in state. The former pope was the first to step down from his position in centuries and leaves behind a complicated legacy.

With files from Reuters

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