ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Jerusalem’s church bells ring as city’s Catholics grieve late ex-pope Benedict

Vatican’s top envoy calls for priests to hold mass for late former pontiff, who visited holy sites in Israel and the West Bank in 2009

File: Then-pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the Stone of Anointing, where Christians believe the body of Jesus was washed before his burial, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 15, 2009. (YANNIS BEHRAKIS/POOL/AFP)
File: Then-pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the Stone of Anointing, where Christians believe the body of Jesus was washed before his burial, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 15, 2009. (YANNIS BEHRAKIS/POOL/AFP)

Church bells tolled for the death of ex-pope Benedict XVI in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, where Catholics revered their “great” former pontiff.

Standing before the ancient stones of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was buried, seminarian Matteo Sassano said he had been praying for the retired pope, who died on Saturday.

“Pope Benedict was a great pope… also, a great companion of Pope Francis,” said Sassano, 33, from Italy.

The death of Benedict, nearly a decade after his shock resignation, ends a remarkable era in which he and his successor lived alongside one another within the Vatican walls.

The Holy See’s top representative in Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, called for all priests to celebrate a mass for Benedict.

“(We) ask all Churches and monasteries to ring the bells as is our tradition… May the Lord grant him eternal rest!” Pizzaballa wrote.

Christian worshippers light candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City of Jerusalem, January 1, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP)

Jerusalem and the wider Holy Land draw large numbers of pilgrims from among the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

Veronica Orzelek, 23, said people in her home country of Poland would “absolutely” be in mourning.

The German-born pontiff was seen as “a signature kind of character” in Poland, Orzelek said on the cobbled Saint Francis Street.

‘Peaceful man’

Don Faller, an American visitor, said he “more or less” agreed with Benedict’s traditionalist approach which drew criticism from some within the church.

“It’s a continuation of old-style Catholicism which is very conservative,” said the 65-year-old, praising the late pope as “a peaceful man.”

In 2009, Benedict toured the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, which are all home to sacred Christian sites.

While visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the pope offered his “fraternal encouragement” to the clergy and congregation “who serve the beloved Church in the Holy Land.”

File: Then-pope Benedict XVI gestures as he prepares to sit with then-chief Tel Aviv rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (L), then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (2L), then-president Shimon Peres (2R) and Avner Shalev, then-director of Yad Vashem, during a ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, May 11, 2009. (Menahem KAHANA/AFP)

The late pontiff was described Saturday as a “true friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, praised Benedict for his “support for the freedom and independence of the Palestinian people.”

Israel regards the Old City and all of East Jerusalem — which it conquered from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967 — as part of its undivided capital. Palestinians want it for the capital of a potential future state.

In the heart of the Old City, the sound of priests singing drifted across the courtyard where the Italian seminarian remembered the late pope.

“We will accompany him with prayers,” said Sassano.

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