Pope Francis to lead funeral of his predecessor Benedict XVI in prestigious ceremony at Vatican

By Sana Noor Haq, Sharon Braithwaite, Valentina Di Donato and Delia Gallagher, CNN

The funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI, who died Saturday at the age of 95, will take place Thursday (local time) in a traditional ceremony led by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

In line with Benedict's wishes, his funeral will be "simple," according to the director of the press office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni. It will be the first time in modern times a pope has presided over his predecessor's funeral.

The ceremony will be similar to that of a reigning pope but there will be some modifications, Bruni said. Benedict will be named pope emeritus during the funeral, and the language of some prayers will be different because he was not the reigning pope when he died.

The faithful will pray the rosary as Benedict's coffin leaves St. Peter's Basilica at around 8:45 a.m. local time (2.45 a.m. ET) Thursday.

Pope Francis will lead the funeral mass, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. local time in St. Peter's Square.

Benedict's coffin will then be transported through the Basilica and to the Vatican crypt for the burial, in the first tomb of John Paul II.

The tomb was vacated after John Paul II's body and remains were moved to a chapel inside the Basilica after he became a saint.

At the time of the burial during the rite, a webbing will be placed around the coffin with the seals of the apostolic chamber, the pontifical house and liturgical celebrations. The cypress coffin will be placed inside a zinc coffin that is soldered and sealed, and subsequently placed inside a wooden coffin, which will be buried.

The ceremony is expected to end at around 11:15 a.m. local time.

High-profile dignitaries including Queen Sofia of Spain and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are set to attend the funeral, alongside US Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donelly.

Benedict, who was the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, passed away on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City, according to a statement from the Vatican.

He was elected pope in April 2005, following John Paul II's death.

His death prompted tributes from political and religious leaders including US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Dalai Lama.

Thousands of mourners, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella, paid their respects to the former pontiff earlier this week during his lying-in-state in St. Peter's Basilica.

The public viewing of Benedict finished Wednesday, before an intimate religious rite during which items including coins and medals minted over his tenure and a scroll about the pontificate were placed into his sealed cypress coffin ahead of the funeral.

Francis paid tribute to his predecessor during an audience at the Vatican Wednesday.

"I would like us to join with those here beside us who are paying their respects to Benedict XVI, and to turn my thoughts to him, a great master of catechesis," he said.

"May he help us rediscover in Christ the joy of believing and the hope of living."