Pope Benedict’s tomb at St. Peter’s Basilica is now public

VATICAN CITY — The public can now visit the tomb of Pope Benedict XVI in the caves beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pontiff was buried on January 5 immediately after a funeral in St. Peter’s Square. Benedict’s tomb is in the caves under the ground floor of the basilica.

The Vatican announced on Saturday that the public could visit the tomb from Sunday morning.

Benedict had been living since 2013 as pope emeritus, after retiring from the papacy, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years. He died on December 31 at the age of 95, in the Vatican monastery where he spent his last years.

On Thursday, his longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, gave a final blessing after the body of Benedict XVI, contained in three coffins – the one in cypress displayed in the square during the funeral presided over by Pope Francis, one in zinc and an oak exterior. — have been lowered into a floor space.

The remains were placed in the former tomb of Benedict’s predecessor, Saint John Paul II. John Paul’s remains were moved to a chapel on the ground floor of the basilica after his beatification in 2011.

Some 50,000 people attended Benedict XVI’s funeral, after the body was laid to rest for three days in the basilica, an event that drew nearly 200,000 viewers.

The name of Benedict, the 265th pontiff of the Catholic Church, was engraved on a white marble slab, the Vatican said.

The Vatican did not say whether Pope Francis had privately visited Benedict’s completed tomb before public viewing was permitted, or whether he might do so at another time.

On Sunday morning, Francis led a ceremony for the baptism of 13 babies in the Sistine Chapel. The chapel, adorned with frescoes by Michelangelo, is the traditional setting for baptisms, an event that closes the Vatican’s end-of-year ceremonies.

Later, greeting pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday noon blessing, Francis quoted a 2008 homily by Benedict, in which the late pontiff spoke of salvation.

Drawing on the words of his predecessor, Francis said that the faithful, when judging others, including in the Catholic Church, should apply not harshness but mercy, “share wounds and frailties” and avoid divisions.

Francis was criticized in some quarters by those who favored Benedict’s more conservative positions because his funeral homily made only a mere mention of the late pontiff. While Benedict and Francis had spoken to each other openly and respectfully, tensions escalated for years between the two men’s loyalists.

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