Nearly 200,000 people have viewed the body of Pope Benedict XVI in recent days, lying in state before the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Many have stood in line for more than an hour to see the pope, whose body was transferred Jan. 2 to the basilica, where mourners can pray for the late former pope ahead of his funeral Mass on Thursday.
They’ve come from all over — some from thousands of miles away, and some from just up the street. And, as The Pillar has learned, they’ve come for a lot of reasons - some deeply personal.
The procedure inside the basilica moves smoothly, thanks to the work of ushers, Swiss Guards, and members of several Italian police agencies, all working to keep people moving. Mourners wait outside the basilica, in a line that has snaked around St. Peter’s Square, and then inside, before processing past the former pope’s body, with many uttering a prayer.
While cardinals, world leaders, and other dignitaries are invited to kneel and pray in a small seating area surrounding Benedict’s body, most mourners have to keep moving — glimpsing the former pope’s remains for only a few seconds before the line snakes around a corner, and toward the basilica’s exit.
So why did people stand in line for so long, for just a few seconds near the body of Benedict XVI?
Here’s what some of them told us: (comments edited for length and clarity)
Sister Concilia Odea, Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Nigeria
Theology student, Pontifical University Urbaniana
For me, Pope Benedict is a great theologian of our time, and he’s a saint for me.
Listening to his audiences, and reading some of his books, I can see that he had love for God, and he really worked for God. You can imagine his last statement, him saying: ‘Jesus, I love you.’
A summary of the commandment is love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself.
For Benedict, talking about Jesus was just like following the mission of Christ that we have to talk about God to the ends of the world. And he has preached to the whole world. For me, he was a missionary — God sent all of us to go to the ends of the world to talk about God, and he has done that, and he did it so well. So for me, he is already with God, with his crown, as the great missionary of our time.
In my country, there is violence in the north, east, south, and west of Nigeria, but we are praying that through [Benedict’s] intercession, that God is going to bring healing to Nigeria. We can have peace, because we are all made in the image of God.
Fr Bose Philip Mannaparambil, 45, Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, India
Canon law student, Pontifical Oriental Institute
I am a Syro-Malabar Catholic. Pope Benedict was very close to the Syro-Malabar Church and he loved our church. During recent years, our Church made rapid progress in the field of mission and evangelization, especially in extending pastoral care to the migrant communities in the US, Europe, Australia, in the Gulf countries etc. The Syro-Malabar Church now has eparchies in the U.S., in the U.K., in Australia, and an Apostolic Visitation to Europe. The all-India Jurisdiction was reinstated in 2017. Pope Benedict was also instrumental - directly during his Papacy, and indirectly when he was the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith - for initiating, supporting, and moving forward many of these advances made by the Syro-Malabar Church.
He always expressed his respect and admiration for our East Syriac liturgy and appreciated our unique faith life.
Today, I was not praying for him, I was seeking his intercession, really. Truly, he is a saint.
Allen Torz, 22, Romania
I am a waiter and a barman, at a restaurant just here next to the Vatican. So I had the possibility to come to see this. It was a long wait, but not every person has the opportunity to watch this, it’s something exciting.
I prayed when I saw Benedict, but this was for me, more for an experience of culture, a life experience. I think people came to see Benedict because they are very religious, or because it’s a beautiful experience, and an exciting one.
Vladimir and Marina Kalishnikov, Norway
Vladimir: We came here to see Benedict because this is a central place for Christendom. We waited in line for a long time, but it was no problem. Really no problem.
Marina: This is the center for Christians, we think this is the center of the world, of the Catholic world. And it’s very beautiful, now for Christmas, and so we wanted to come to pray.
Nisha Aryal (left), 25, Texas
I came here for vacation, to Rome and a couple of other spots in Europe, and we wanted to see the Vatican. We had tickets for tomorrow, but it was canceled, because of the funeral. So we decided to come today. We waited about 45 minutes; it wasn’t that bad.
I was admiring the church, and to be honest, I didn’t know that we would be able to see Benedict XVI, until we got up there. I am not Catholic, I’m agnostic. But being here definitely makes me feel connected to Italy, and seeing people that really care about this — I saw people who were crying — and it was special to see something special to them.
Fr. Jailos Augustine Mpina, Montfort Missionaries, Malawi
Director of Communications, Montfort Missionaries
I am from Malawi, but I am working here in Rome at our congregation’s generalate. I waited in line to see Benedict XVI — there are many people coming, but the line is quick. Around evening it was long, but not today.
I was ordained May 10, 2014. Benedict was influential because when I was doing philosophy and theological studies in Nairobi, I would find books by Joseph Ratzinger. So it is very interesting to see that… when I see a person and the books that he has written, I like to read those books first, because of what I can see in the person.
Benedict, as Pope Francis has said, was a master of catechesis. Based on his theological texts, we can see that he had a devotion to Our Mother Mary — though not so vibrant as the late Holy Father Pope St. John Paul II, but he had a very deep connection to Our Mother in his writings.
Personally, to enter the basilica and see Benedict XVI, I was very touched. When I stood in the line, I tried to persevere. And I said to myself that I would proceed with joy - that I would go with joy. And at the front of the line, I wanted to stay, and remain for some time. But because there were so many people wanting to see him, the ushers were telling us to keep moving, to keep moving.
It was, though, so touching to see the body of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI lying there. So it was a reminder for me to say that we need to do something while we are still young, for God, because life is so fragile. You see — he was very powerful, very theological, an incredible mind, but he is lying there, and tomorrow we are going to bury him. We are so fragile.
Paolo Macche (second from left), 23 Milan
We came to say goodbye to a great personality of our Church. He was a great theologian, and a real pastor - a father. I came to know him and he enriched our faith.
[He showed] perseverance in announcing the Gospel without giving up, even to a world that is taking another path. Always pointing directly to the truth.
Schola, 20, South Korea
I am Christian- Catholic- and I am traveling, and I saw that he died, and I wanted right away to see him. In the Church I prayed: ‘Goodbye, Father. Goodbye.’
Fr. Martin Benzone, St. Michael’s Norbertine Abbey, Silverado, California
I am the rector of our residence in Rome for priests who are studying here in Rome.
Today I needed to be here. I was praying the rosary as I went in, and asked God to grant him eternal rest, and perpetual light, in the ordinary prayer for someone who has died.
I was ordained under John Paul II, and I was in St. Peter’s Square the day he was elected. With Benedict, I experienced him first at World Youth Day in Cologne, in 2005. I was blown away by his ability to communicate with different languages, and in such a compelling way.
Benedict was pope at a time when the Church was trying to figure out what Vatican II meant, and he had a wonderful insight, because he was part of [the Council]. And so he helped us appreciate what it meant to be a Church in the modern world. He continues to help us do that.
Luca Marcacculi, Perugia
I came today with my family: with my wife, Stefania, with my daughter, the big one, my daughter, the little one, and two of my boys. I have four children here, and one more in heaven.
My older daughter is nine, and the baby is five months old. Because we have a big family, we were able to skip most of the line — we waited less than one hour.
To be honest, we didn’t come to Rome specifically for the pope, we were here for a holiday, but we wanted to bring the kids today. This is their first time to see St. Peter’s Basilica, and I wanted to explain to them this place that is the center of Christianity, and to explain to them this pope that was very important to me.
I tried to explain to them a little bit about the life and thought of the pope, but also to show them the church itself — to show them the life and history of this place.
Benedict was important to me because he was a very profound thinker, and I really like Benedict because he shows the truth, and he talks about non-negotiable values, in a way that is a wall against so much contemporary thinking … and it was very important for Christianity to have this pope.
We are raising our children in a Catholic community, for us it’s very important to form our children. And so I wanted to show them this church, and I hope it will mean something to them to have seen Pope Benedict, too.