Tens of thousands of people are expected to visit the former pope before his burial on Thursday.

A steady stream of people has begun to pay their respects to former pope Benedict XVI, whose body lies in state at St. Peter’s Basilica for his funeral later this week.

The doors of the basilica were opened to the public shortly after 09:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Monday. Some of those in attendance had waited in the humidity for hours before sunrise to pay their respects to the late pope.

The German theologian, who died on Saturday at age 95 in a remote Vatican monastery, he led the Catholic Church for eight years before becoming the first pope in six centuries to resign in 2013.

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to visit the Vatican in the coming days, with people allowed to pass the former head of the Catholic Church until Wednesday evening.

His body, clad in red and gold liturgical vestments, is placed on a simple dais guarded by two Swiss guards. The public screening will run at 10 a.m. Monday, with 12 hours each scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Security officials expected at least 25,000 people to pass by the body on the first day of viewing.

Benedict’s funeral will take place in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday and will be presided over by Pope Francis before his remains are interred in the tombs beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the remote Vatican monastery where he had lived since his shocked resignation in 2013. [File: Tony Gentile/Vatican]

Solemn but simple funeral planned

Benedict’s shock resignation nearly a decade ago created the extraordinary situation of two “men in white” — he and Francis — in the Vatican. He cited his vulnerability and said he didn’t have the strength for such a demanding job. His resignation ultimately paved the way for Pope Francis and future popes to step down due to ill health.

His funeral will also be groundbreaking.

Papal death usually leads to the convening of a conclave of cardinals to elect a successor, but this time Francis will remain in office and will direct the proceedings.

Benedict’s funeral will be “solemn but simple,” the Vatican has said, after which he will be buried in the papal tombs beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican has not yet released details about the guest list, other than that it will include delegations from Italy and Benedict’s native Germany.

The last papal funeral, of John Paul II in 2005, drew a million faithful and heads of state from around the world, though Benedict was a more divisive figure.

A brilliant theologian, he alienated many Catholics with his staunch defense of traditional values. As Pope, he struggled to impose his authority on the Church as it faced a series of crisesalso administrative sexual abuse. His successor cuts a very different figure, an Argentine Jesuit who is most at home in his flock and has tried to forge a more compassionate church.

Pope Francis paid tribute to Benedict at three New Year’s events at the Vatican over the weekend, “giving thanks to God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and of the Church”.

Francis, 86, has raised the prospect that he could follow Benedict’s example and step down if he is no longer able to carry out his duties.

In July he suffered from knee problems that made him dependent on a wheelchair. He admitted that he had to slow down or think about stepping aside.

Last month, Francis revealed that he had signed a letter of resignation upon taking office should ill health prevent him from carrying out his duties.

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