Pope Benedict’s funeral draws crowds to the Vatican

    Almost 200,000 people have paid their respects to the pope’s body as it lay in state at St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday until Wednesday evening.

    The pope’s body has been placed in a plain wooden coffin in preparation for the funeral. After the funeral ceremony, the coffin will be taken back inside the basilica and encased in zinc before being sealed in a second wooden casket.

    At his request, Benedict will be buried in the underground Vatican grottoes in the niche where first Pope John XXIII and then John Paul II were interred before their remains were transferred to more prominent places in the basilica above. A written account of the pope’s life will be buried with him in his coffin, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

    Pope Francis hailed the late pope emeritus as a “great master of catechesis” at a general audience in the Vatican on Wednesday, paying special tribute to his “acute and gentle thought.”

    Among prominent clergymen attending the funeral will be Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, his secretary said. Zen, a retired 90-year-old bishop, has been sharply at odds with Francis over the Vatican’s agreement with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops.

    Born in a small Bavarian village, the pope formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger joined the priesthood in 1951 and rose to lead the Catholic church in 2005. He was widely considered a champion for the church’s conservatives, but the end of his time as pontiff was marred by the church sex abuse scandal.

    Reuters and Associated Press Contributed,

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