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Thousands pay tribute to ex-pope Benedict at Vatican

Thousands of Catholics have paid their respects to former pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, at the start of three days of lying-in-state at St Peter’s Basilica before his funeral.

They began queueing before dawn to view the German theologian’s body, which was transferred early Monday from the monastery in the Vatican grounds where he died Saturday aged 95.

“I arrived at 6:00 am, it seemed normal to come and pay homage to him after all he did for the church,” said an Italian nun, sister Anna-Maria, near the front of the queue that snaked around the edge of the vast St Peter’s Square.

Benedict led the Catholic Church for eight years before becoming the first pope in six centuries to step down in 2013, citing his declining health.

His successor Pope Francis will lead the funeral on Thursday in St Peter’s Square before his remains are placed in the tombs beneath the basilica.

Benedict’s body, dressed in red papal mourning robes and a gold-edged mitre, was laid out on a catafalque draped in gold fabric in front of the altar of the church, flanked by two Swiss Guards.

“The atmosphere is very intimate,” Francesca Gabrielli, a pilgrim from Tuscany in central Italy, told AFP inside the basilica. 

“She said Benedict was “a great pope, profound, unique”.

Benedict XVI, first pope to resign in 600 years, dies at 95

Unprecedented funeral

Benedict died at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery where he had lived for the past decade.

His body will lie in state for three days, with members of the public allowed in during the day, passing first through the metal detectors used routinely to screen visitors to St Peter’s Basilica.

Thursday’s funeral is unprecedented in modern times in that it will be presided over by a sitting pontiff.

The Vatican has yet to release details of the guest list, beyond saying that it will include delegations from Italy and Germany.

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