When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, after 27 years leading the Catholic church, his funeral drew the heads of state or government from more than 70 countries, not to mention an assortment of royalty and the leaders of the world’s other major religions.
The funeral of Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign his position, was set for a more modest turnout. After all, for nearly a decade Benedict had been pope emeritus — living “hidden from the world,” as he pledged when he stepped down.
The Vatican announced that only two official delegations would participate in the ceremony: one from Italy, led by President Sergio Mattarella, and one from Benedict’s native Germany, led by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Even so, there will be a substantial number of notable leaders on hand.
The Vatican said representatives of other countries would be participating in a private capacity, including the monarchs of Spain and Belgium, and the presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Togo and San Marino.
The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Gabon and Slovakia planned to attend, as well as ministers from Cyprus, Columbia, Croatia, France and Britain, according to a Vatican guest list that has been growing since Benedict’s death Saturday. Other dignitaries that were expected to attend included the head of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a more than 900-year-old Catholic group.
President Biden, who is Catholic, will not attend but was sending the ambassador to the Holy See, Joe Donnelly.
The Italian government has ordered all Italian and European Union flags on public buildings to fly at half-staff on Thursday. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will also attend, her office said on Wednesday.
Representatives of the world’s Christian churches and ecumenical organizations also announced that they planned to participate.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians, dispatched two representatives. Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, was expected to attend. The Orthodox churches of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Macedonia and the Orthodox Church in America also planned to send representatives.
Officials from Anglican and Protestant churches were expected to attend. A delegation of Rome’s Jewish community and representatives from two Muslim organizations in Italy were also among the anticipated attendees.
Still uncertain was the number of the church’s cardinals who would be present.
Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, said invitations had gone out to all 224 cardinals. “We’ll see who comes,” he said this week.