Pope Francis wants to simplify papal funeral rites, be buried outside Vatican

Pope Francis attends the Holy Mass on the day of the feast of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, at the Vatican, December 12, 2023.

Pope Francis, who has shunned much of the Vatican’s pomp and privilege, has decided to vastly simplify the elaborate funeral rites for a pontiff and be the first one to be buried outside the Vatican in more than a century.

The Pope, who turns 87 on Sunday, disclosed plans for his funeral in an interview with Mexico’s N+ television on Tuesday evening to mark the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the interview with the network’s Vatican correspondent, Valentina Alazraki, taped before the Pope presided at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis appeared to have recovered from a bout of bronchitis.

He laughed often while discussing subjects such as his health, migration, his relationship with the late Pope Benedict XVI, and travel plans. He said his health was good but asked for prayers as he deals with the limitations of old age.

Francis disclosed that he has been working with the Vatican’s master of ceremonies, Archbishop Diego Ravelli, to simplify the elaborate, book-long funeral rites for a Pope that have been used for his predecessors.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has shunned the crimson, fur-trimmed “mozzetta”, or cape, and also does not wear a gold cross but has kept around his neck the same faded silver-plated one he used as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He also has not used the plush red “shoes of the fisherman” used by his predecessors. He has kept the same simple black shoes he always used and wears a plastic watch, giving others away so they could be auctioned off for charity.

Health ‘good’, ‘improved’

Francis said that because of his devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, he has decided to be buried in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he traditionally goes to pray before and after each of his foreign trips. The funeral Mass itself would be expected to be held in St. Peter’s Square.

Many popes are buried in the crypts beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. The last pope to be buried outside the Vatican was Leo XIII, who died in 1903 and is buried in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.

Francis has said he would be ready to resign – as Benedict did in 2013 – if his health became extremely bad, but also believes that papal resignations should not become the norm.

He acknowledged that since Benedict’s death a year ago perhaps he had become less patient and more firm with his more strident conservative critics who saw the late pope as their standard bearer, saying that sometimes “there are some you need to stand up to a bit”.

Francis took disciplinary action against two conservative US prelates last month.

Asked about his health, he said: “I feel good, I feel improved. Sometimes I’m told I’m not prudent because I feel like doing things and moving around. I guess those are good signs, no? I am quite well”.

The bronchitis forced Francis to cancel a trip to Dubai this month to attend the COP28 climate summit. He had surgery in June to repair an abdominal hernia and appears to have recovered completely from that operation.

He said he was hoping to make three trips next year, to somewhere in Polynesia, to Belgium, and to his native Argentina for his first visit there since his election in 2013.

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