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Former Pope Benedict XVI's funeral was held at the Vatican

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Pope Benedict XVI's funeral was held at the Vatican today. It brought to an end an unprecedented decade in which a reigning pope lived side by side with his predecessor. Pope Francis presided over the requiem mass today in St Peter's Square. Afterwards, Benedict was buried in the crypt under the basilica alongside his predecessors. From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing, inaudible).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The air was damp and thick with fog as mourners began arriving at St Peter's Square in darkness, hours before the funeral mass. Security was tight. When the service ended, the sun was shining and the mood more joyful among the 50,000 people Italian officials say were present.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in non-English language).

POGGIOLI: The Vatican had said that in accordance with Benedict's wishes, the ritual would be simple and solemn. But in the end, it differed only slightly from the elaborate liturgy used when reigning popes die. Only a few specific prayers and readings were eliminated. Pope Francis, wearing crimson vestments associated with papal funerals, arrived in a wheelchair and sat most of the time due to his ailing knee. He con-celebrated the mass, along with 125 cardinals, hundreds of bishops and thousands of priests. In his homily, Francis offered a meditation on Christ but did not eulogize his predecessor. He invoked the image of the women in the gospel stories who prayed at the tomb of the deceased Jesus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) We, too, have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years.

POGGIOLI: And Francis mentioned his predecessor by name only once, commending his spirit into God's hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) Benedict, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice now and forever.

POGGIOLI: Earlier today, the Vatican released the official history of Benedict's life. The document, written in Latin, cited the late former pope's outreach to Anglicans and Jews and his efforts to combat clerical sex abuse. It was under Benedict's papacy that those scandals erupted across the world. Benedict is also remembered as the enforcer of orthodoxy under his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, when, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he spearheaded a sweeping crackdown on dissent, disciplining theologians in Latin America and the United States. After he became the first pope to resign in 600 years, Benedict was revered as the standard bearer for conservative Catholics who opposed the liberal reforms of Pope Francis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POGGIOLI: Some of those followers were present today, and they ignored appeals for decorum, breaking out in cheers and shouting santo subito, sainthood now - an echo of the chants that marked the funeral of his predecessor, John Paul II. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.