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Pope Francis leads the Vespers and Te Deum prayer on New Year's Eve in St. Peter's Basilica after the death of former Pope Benedict at the Vatican Image Credit: Reuters

Vatican City: Pope Francis will address the Catholic faithful on Sunday at the Vatican, the day after the death of his predecessor at the age of 95.

The pontiff led tributes on Saturday to the "kind" and "noble" emeritus pope, who died almost a decade after becoming the first head of the Catholic church in six centuries to step down.

On Sunday, Francis will preside over a service marking the World Day of Peace at St Peter's Basilica, before addressing the faithful in St Peter's Square for the Angelus prayer at 1100 GMT.

Preparations are underway for the funeral on Thursday morning of Benedict at St Peter's, over which Francis will preside.

His body will lie in state for three days before that, allowing the faithful to pay their respects to a pontiff who divided Catholics with his staunch defence of traditional values.

Benedict's funeral will be "solemn but simple", the Vatican said, after which he will be buried in the papal tombs under St Peter's Basilica.

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Candles stand next to St. Peter's Square after former Pope Benedict died in the Vatican. Image Credit: Reuters


Two men in white

Tributes poured in from around the world on Saturday to a brilliant theologian who nevertheless struggled to impose his authority on the church as it battled a string of crises, including over clerical sex abuse.

US President Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, praised his "devotion to the Church", while Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed him as a "defender of traditional Christian values".

His death brought to an end an unprecedented situation in which two "men in white" - Benedict and Francis - had co-existed within the walls of the tiny city-state.

Benedict's health had been declining for a long time, and he had almost entirely withdrawn from public view when the Vatican revealed on Wednesday that his situation had worsened.

He died on Saturday morning in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican where he had lived since he resigned in 2013, citing his declining mental and physical health.

At a New Year's Eve service on Saturday evening, Francis paid tribute to his "dearest" predecessor, saying he was "so noble, so kind".

Francis has this year raised the prospect that he might follow Benedict's example and step down if he became unable to carry out his duties.

First German pope of the modern era

Born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria, Benedict was 78 when he became the first German pope of the modern era.

Flags on the town hall flew at half-mast Saturday in Marktl, where a special mass was organised at the church where he was baptised.

Local Karl Michael Nuck, 55, said his death "was probably a deliverance", while praising Benedict for resigning and defending his record.

Long close to John Paul II and a senior cardinal in the Catholic hierarchy, Benedict was a leading candidate to become pope in 2005 - but later said his election felt "like the guillotine".

Unlike his successor Francis, a Jesuit who delights in being among his flock, Benedict was a conservative intellectual dubbed "God's Rottweiler" in a previous post as chief doctrinal enforcer.

He struggled to contain numerous scandals in the church during his papacy, not least the worldwide scourge of clerical sex abuse and decades of cover-ups.

Conservative flag-bearer

The abuse scandal overshadowed his final months after a damning report for the German church in January 2022 accused him of personally failing to stop four predatory priests in the 1980s while he was archbishop of Munich.

He denied wrongdoing and the Vatican strongly defended his record in being the first pope to apologise for the scandals, who expressed his own "deep remorse" and met with victims.

There were other controversies, from comments that angered the Muslim world to a money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank and a personal humiliation when, in 2012, his butler leaked secret papers to the media.

He will be remembered for his theology, but "he didn't have the mental strength to be pope", noted Italian Vatican observer Marco Politi.

Yet after he quit, Benedict remained a flag-bearer for the conservative wing of the church.

With his death, those who battled Francis' more liberal outlook "lose a living symbol", Politi told AFP.