Pope Francis led the funeral of his predecessor Benedict XVI on Thursday in front of tens of thousands of mourners in St. Peter’s Square, an event without precedent in modern times.

Red-robed cardinals, dignitaries and thousands of priests and nuns from around the world gathered to bid farewell to the German theologian, who stunned the Catholic Church in 2013 by becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to resign.

For the first time in modern history, the proceedings were led by a sitting pope, Francis, who delivered the homily in Italian as part of a multilingual service with a Latin mass.

“Benedict… may your joy be complete when you hear his (God’s) voice, now and forever!” said the pontiff in homage to his predecessor, who died last Saturday at the age of 95.

At the end of the service, Francis made the sign of the cross over Benedict XVI’s simple cypress coffin and bowed his head, before 12 suit-suited pallbearers carried him into St. Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict will be buried in a tomb in the crypt below the basilica, where the body of John Paul II lay before being moved for beatification in 2011. He was sainted in 2014.

Born Joseph Ratzinger, the former pope had not been head of state for a decade, but world leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were among those in attendance.

An estimated 50,000 people were in the square for the funeral, according to police, many of whom had been queuing since dawn to say goodbye.

“Benedict is a bit like my father, so I had to pay homage to him,” said Cristina Grisanti, a 59-year-old from Milan, who praised the former pope’s “purity, frankness, sweetness.”

An estimated 195,000 people had already paid their respects earlier when the body lay in the state.

Benedict XVI was the first German pope in 1,000 years and church bells pealed across Germany as the funeral ended on Thursday, while many Germans were also at the Vatican.

“We owe him a lot. We want to show that we stand behind him, ”said Benedikt Rothweiler, 34, who came from Aachen with his family.

“Actually, we know very little about Benedict. He always accepted everything as God wants it. This is a good example for us humans.”

– Two potatoes –

Benedict was a brilliant theologian but a divisive figure who alienated many Catholics with his staunch defense of conservative doctrine on issues like abortion.

His eight years at the helm of the global Catholic Church were also marked by crises, from infighting within the Vatican to the global clerical sex abuse scandal and its cover-up.

When he resigned, Benedict said he no longer had the “mental and physical strength” necessary for the task, and he retired to a quiet life in a monastery in the Vatican gardens.

His death ended an unprecedented situation of having two “men in white”, himself and Francis, living in the small city-state.

He and Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, were said to have gotten along well, but subsequent interventions by Benedict XVI meant he remained a standard-bearer for conservative Catholics who disliked his successor’s more liberal stance.

The last time a Pope presided over his predecessor’s funeral was in 1802, when Pius VII conducted the ceremony for Pius VI, but the circumstances were very different.

Pius VI died in 1799 in exile, a prisoner of France, and was buried in Valence. The remains of his successor were exhumed and brought back to Italy, before being invited to a papal funeral at St. Peter’s.

– European royalty –

Beyond St. Peter’s, many of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics were expected to follow the funeral on television and radio.

In the majority Catholic Philippines, churches held requiem masses for the former pontiff, including at Malolos Cathedral near the capital Manila.

“It’s an inexplicable feeling to witness this,” said Cherry Castro, 67, who was among the 500 people gathered for the special ceremony.

Portugal declared a day of national mourning on Thursday, while in Italy, flags were flown at half-mast on public buildings.

The only official delegations were from Germany and Italy.

But other dignitaries, including Belgian and Spanish royals, the presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Slovenia and Togo, and the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Gabon and Slovakia, among others, attended in their personal capacities.

The service followed traditional papal funerals, with some changes to the prayers and readings to reflect Benedict’s status as pope emeritus.

Before being placed in the crypt, his cypress coffin had to be placed first inside a zinc coffin, then in a wooden box.

As is traditional, next to his body will be placed coins and medals minted during his pontificate and a written text describing his pontificate, sealed in a metal cylinder.