Pope Francis leads funeral for predecessor Benedict XVI, a first in modern times

Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor former Pope Benedict XVI Thursday, in a funeral attended by tens of thousands of mourners at St. Peter’s Square.

The funeral marked the first occasion in modern times that a pontiff had presided over the funeral of his predecessor – and the first ever of one who resigned. Benedict, the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, died aged 95 on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City.

It was an occasion characterized by simplicity, as per the wish of the former pope. “It’s difficult to have a simple service in St. Peter’s Square, but I think it was,” Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, writer and editor, told CNN’s Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo on CNN Newsroom.

“You have to have some pomp and ceremony for a former pope, but I think within the guidelines of what Pope Emeritus Benedict wanted, it succeeded very well.”

About 50,000 people attended the funeral in St. Peter’s Square according to Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni, compared with an estimated 1.1 million people for the funeral of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II. There were 500,000 people in St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding area in 2005, and another 600,000 who watched on video screens in other parts of Rome.

John Paul II’s funeral was the largest gathering of heads of state ever outside the United Nations. Delegations included nine monarchs along with 70 presidents and prime ministers.

Over the six days between John Paul II’s death and his funeral, an estimated 3 million people came to pay their final respects. Each hour, 21,000 people passed through St. Peter’s Basilica. The average wait to see the pope was 13 hours, and at its maximum the line was 3 miles long.

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