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Pope marks New Year as Vatican prepares to mourn Benedict

Pope Francis prayed for his predecessor’s passage to heaven as he presided over a special New Year’s Day Mass Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, a day after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in retirement at the Vatican.

The huge basilica will host Benedict’s coffin starting on Monday. Thousands of faithful are expected to file by the coffin on the first of three days of viewing.

Benedict, 95, died Saturday morning in the Vatican where he had lived since retirement. He was the first pope in centuries to resign, citing his increasing frailty.

On Sunday, Benedict’s body lay on a burgundy-colored bier in the chapel of the monastery. He was dressed in a miter, the headgear of a bishop, and a red cloak-like vestment. A rosary was placed in his hand. Behind him — visible in photos released by the Vatican — was the chapel’s altar, and a decorated Christmas tree.

Francis looked weary and sat with his head bowed as Mass began on the first day of the year, an occasion the Catholic church dedicates to the theme of peace.

He departed briefly from reading his homily, with its emphasis on hope and peace, to pray aloud for Benedict.

“Today we entrust to our Blessed Mother our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, so that she may accompany him in his passage from this world to God,” he said.

Later, Francis delivered more remarks about the retired pontiff when he offered New Year’s greetings to thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square

Referring to Mary, Francis said that “in these hours, we invoke her intercession, in particular for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who, yesterday morning, left this world.”

“Let us unite all together, with one heart and one soul, in giving thanks to God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and of the church,″ said Francis, speaking from a window of the Apostolic Palace to pilgrims and tourists below.

The square will be the setting for Benedict’s funeral led by Francis on Thursday morning. That rite will be a simple one, the Vatican has said, in keeping with the wishes of Benedict, who for decades as a German cardinal had served as the Church’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy before he was elected pope in 2005.

In the last years, Francis has hailed Benedict’s stunning decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years and has made clear he’d consider such a step as an option for himself.

Hobbled by knee pain, Francis, 86, on Sunday arrived in the basilica in a wheelchair, before taking his place in a chair for the Mass, which was being celebrated by the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Francis, who has repeatedly decried the war in Ukraine and its devastation, recalled those who are victims of war, passing the year-end holidays in darkness, cold and fear.

“At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the Earth needs rain,” Francis said in his homily.

When addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis cited the “intolerable” war in Ukraine, which began in February of last year with Russia’s attacks and invasion, and in other places in the world.

Yet, Francis said, “let us not lose hope” that peace will prevail. “In the entire world, in all peoples, a cry is rising, ‘no to war, no to re-armament’ but (may) the resources go to development, health, food, education, work.”

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