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Tributes for former pope pour in from around the world

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges a cheering crowd during from the window of his apartments at the Vatican in 2013 (Domenico Stinellis/AP/PA)
Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges a cheering crowd during from the window of his apartments at the Vatican in 2013 (Domenico Stinellis/AP/PA)

Within minutes of the announcement of the death of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday morning, a wealth of tributes poured in from around the world, while the Vatican revealed that the late pontiff would be given a “simple” funeral, celebrated by Pope Francis, in keeping with his wishes.

Words of praise and fond remembrance poured in from world leaders and religious figures.

US President Joe Biden said in a statement: “Jill and I join Catholics around the world, and so many others, in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“I had the privilege of spending time with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in 2011 and will always remember his generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation.”

Mr Biden also recalled Benedict’s 2008 visit to the White House, saying the then pontiff had remarked that the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity.

“May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all,” he said.

Germany Obit Benedict XVI
Bishop Georg Baetzing, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, addresses the media as he stands next to a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a statement in Limburg, Germany on Saturday (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP/PA)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres paid tribute, describing Benedict as “a humble man of prayer and study.”

Mr Guterres said the late pontiff was “principled in his faith, tireless in his pursuit of peace, and determined in his defence of human rights.”

He added that Benedict “was a spiritual guide to millions across the world and one of the leading academic theologians of our time.”

Mr Guterres offered his “deepest condolences to Catholics and others around the world who were inspired by his life of prayer and tenacious commitment to non-violence and peace”.

While a year-end holiday mood was palpable in the square of the small Bavarian town where the former pope was born in 1927, church bells tolled solemnly at St Oswald Church in Marktl am Inn, near the Austrian border.

The pastor of the Bavarian town of Altoetting, where Benedict came many times as a pilgrim to pray to a famous statue of the Virgin Mary, has lauded the former pope as a humble, yet knowledgeable and unique man.

“He was humble in the Bavarian way,” Pastor Klaus Metzl told The Associated Press. “We all knew what he could do and how much he knew, but he never bragged about it.”

Standing in front of the golden, life-size statue of the pope on Altoetting’s town square, where mourners had lit candles and put down white roses, Mr Metzl reminisced about his first personal encounters with the future pope in 1990 in Rome when he was a theology student.

Mr Metzl said that “every Thursday, he would join the morning mass and afterward have breakfast with us, it was wonderful, his company was so inspiring for us.”

Germany Obit Benedict XVI
Two people stay in front of a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the baptistery of Benedict in Marktl in Germany (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad/PA)

The state government in Bavaria ordered that flags on regional government buildings be flown at half-staff Saturday and on the day of Benedict’s funeral.

Germany’s president is praising the late Pope Benedict XVI’s dedication to dialogue between Christian denominations and with other religions.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a message of condolences to Pope Francis that “the election of a pope from the motherland of the Reformation and an intellectual who had made the dialogue between faith and reason his life’s task was an important signal for many people around the world”.

Mr Steinmeier said that the German-born pontiff “particularly cared about the unity of Christendom and the dialogue of religions, the connection between religion and society”. He added that “he sought dialogue with Jews and Muslims and with all Christian denominations worldwide.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz paid tribute to the German-born Benedict as a “formative figure of the Catholic Church”.

Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, became the first German pope in centuries when he was elected in 2005.

Mr Scholz said on Twitter on Saturday that “as the ‘German’ pope, Benedict XVI was a special church leader for many, not just in this country”.

He said that “the world is losing a formative figure of the Catholic Church, a combative personality and a wise theologian”.

Germany Obit Benedict XVI
A flag at the Reichstag building, home of the German federal parliament, flies at half-staff in Berlin (Silke Brueggemeier/dpa via AP/PA)

The governor of Benedict’s native German region says that “we are mourning our Bavarian pope.”

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said on Twitter on Saturday that “with him, society is losing a persuasive representative of the Catholic Church and one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century”.

Mr Soeder wrote that “many people in his homeland will remember him not just as pope, but also as a humble pastor”.

He noted that “at the same time, he also had to face responsibility for difficult phases in his work.”

The governor said that “he always carried his homeland in his heart”.

The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, said that “an impressive theologian and experienced shepherd is leaving us with the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI”.

“We are mourning a personality who imparted hope and direction to the church even in difficult times,” Bishop Baetzing said in a statement. He voiced “great respect” for Benedict’s “courageous decision” to resign a decade ago.

The death of Benedict is being marked in the holy city of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region.

Church bells rang out continuously throughout Jerusalem’s old city and across Israel and the Palestinian territories as news broke of the death. Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa planned an official commemoration mass on Sunday and issued a statement of mourning.

He said that “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has today departed this world for the house of the Heavenly Father. We pray for the repose of his soul.”

In the Gaza Strip, the Holy Family Church — Gaza City’s only Catholic church — paid tribute to Benedict.

Germany Obit Benedict XVI
Candles and a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP/PA)

Parish priest Gabriel Romanelli said that “people saw signs of his humility when he submitted his resignation.” He said that “this gave people the feeling that this is a humble and simple man with all the difficulties of the world, and he was an example to follow.”

About 1,000 Christians live in Hamas-ruled Gaza, a tiny fraction of the territory’s 2.3 million people. Most are Greek Orthodox, with Catholics making up about a quarter of the small community.

Political leaders in Poland have lauded Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s contribution to the church’s teaching, praising him as an outstanding theologian, modest person and friend to their country.

The Sigismund Bell in Krakow — one of Poland’s oldest and biggest church bells, used to mark events of national significance — tolled at noon. A special Mass in Benedict’s honour was planned at Krakow’s Wawel Castle Cathedral later on Saturday.

President Andrzej Duda said on Twitter that the Benedict’s teaching was a “guide post among the many winding and deceptive paths of contemporary world”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described Pope Benedict XVI as “a prominent religious figure and statesman (and) a staunch defender of traditional Christian values.”

A telegram to Pope Francis published on the Kremline website said that, during Benedict’s papacy, full diplomatic relations were established between Russia and the Vatican “and relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were developed.”

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said that he “had the opportunity to testify to his deep love for Eastern Christianity and, in particular, sincere respect for the tradition of Russian Orthodoxy.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has expressed his condolences on the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The foreign ministry said Kishida also referred to the great contributions Pope Benedict made toward world peace. He said Japan was greatly moved by a message Benedict sent after the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster spiritually uplifting the people of Japan.

The head of the Lutheran Church of Sweden has expressed his sympathies with Catholics around the world.

Archbishop Martin Modeus wrote on Twitter that “our churches have different traditions and our ways of thinking have sometimes differed, but Benedict XVI had a great impact on the rapprochement of Lutherans and Catholics in the last 50 years.”

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the death of the pope emeritus is a cause for grief for the entire country.

Mr Mattarella said that “his sweetness and his wisdom had benefited our community and the entire international community”.

He added in a statement that Benedict “continued to serve the cause of his Church in his unique role of pope emeritus with humility and serenity.″ The president said that Benedict “interpreted with finesse the reasons of dialogue, of peace, of the dignity of the person, as well as the supreme interests of religions”.

Germany Obit Benedict XVI
A person takes a picture of a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at St Peter’s Cathedral in Regensburg, Germany (Armin Weigl/dpa via AP/PA)

In predominantly Lutheran Norway, the Catholic bishop of Oslo, Bernt Ivar Eidsvig, called Benedict “the last great theologian of the past 100 years.”

Bishop Eidsvig told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that “He masters all the theological subjects. I cannot think of anyone else who does.”

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni called Pope Benedict XVI a “giant of faith and reason” that history will never forget.

In a statement, she praised his lifelong service to the church and ability to “speak to the hearts and minds of people with the spiritual, cultural and intellectual profundity of his magisterium.”

She said she offered Pope Francis her own personal condolences, and those of the government, in sharing “his pain and that of the entire ecclesial community.”

But some others, including LGBT+ advocates, were restrained in marking the passing of 95-year-old Benedict.

Before being elected pontiff in 2005, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he had long served as the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, ensuring unwavering orthodoxy on issues including homosexual activity, which the Catholic church considers a sin.