Pope Benedict Lying in State Before Unprecedented Funeral Featuring Pope Francis: 'A Unique Time'

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd gathered in St Mark's Square while crossing the square on an electric car on May 7, 2011 in Venice, Italy.
Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd gathered in St Mark's Square while crossing the square on an electric car on May 7, 2011 in Venice, Italy.

Marco Secchi/Getty Pope Benedict XVI

 

Tens of thousands of people are expected to pay homage to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he lies in state at St. Peter's Basilica ahead of his funeral, a unique event that will highlight the dual existence of two popes: the late Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis.

The Holy See announced the news of Benedict's death in a short statement Saturday morning. He was 95.

"With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican," wrote Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office. "Further information will be provided as soon as possible."

On Saturday, Benedict's body was displayed in a chapel of the Vatican monastery where he lived as Pope Emeritus. The following day, it was moved to St. Peter's Basilica in a private ceremonial procedure, where it now lies in state to allow "the greeting of the faithful."

Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican
Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican

Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty

His funeral will be held on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. local time in St. Peter's Square.

"Never before has there been a funeral like this," one priest who preferred not to be named told PEOPLE. "There is a pope celebrating him and this has never happened. The resignation of Pope Benedict and the dual existence of the two Popes made this a unique time. It's an exceptional event."

Vatican expert, author and journalist Francesco Peloso tells PEOPLE Thursday's funeral will be "very colorful, and very engaging and scenographic."

"[Benedict] was, it must be remembered, a figure that was very much loved by some and on the other hand caused much controversy for others," Peloso adds.

Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican
Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican

Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty

In 2013, Benedict made headlines when he unexpectedly stepped down from his role, becoming the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. He cited his "advanced age" in the announcement, noting that "both strength of mind and body are necessary" to lead the Church.

But scandals loomed large over Benedict's papacy. In 2009, two separate reports described the level of sexual abuse within the Irish Church, the BBC reported. Benedict defrocked nearly 400 priests a few years later.

Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican
Pope Benedict Body Lying in State At Vatican

Christopher Furlong/Getty

His death, Peloso tells PEOPLE, will mark a turning point for Pope Francis.

"It will mean that Pope Francis will be free to do as he wants without [Benedict's] spiritual presence, which was very much guided by a conservative and traditional spirit," Peloso says.

Roberto Regoli, a priest and professor of contemporary Church history at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, says Benedict's legacy will be marked by his time spent as a theologist and a cardinal.

"He also lived at this time of recent history of the Catholic Church, and his legacy has been the face of the Catholic Church in these last 50 years," Regoli says. "He has shaped the Catholic church, and in doing so actively tried to find a harmonious balance between reason and faith in order to illustrate the reasonable nature of the church at a time when the world is full of conflict, of shouting, of unreasonable action."

RELATED: Pope Benedict XVI Dead at 95

As Regoli explains, Benedict "is very difficult to box and place in a specific context," and is "impossible to label."

"There were progressive and conservative elements to him," he adds. "It's not clear if he was the end of the old church, or the beginning of the new."

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Pope Benedict and Pope Francis

While Regoli says many scholars have attempted to identify continuity between Benedict and Francis, the current pope "has shown great autonomy compared to his predecessor."

RELATED: Pope Francis Dismisses Rumors That He's Planning to Resign

"It was very clear that — despite having a very good relationship with Pope Benedict — Pope Francis is very much his own man."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

At 86, Francis has had his own health troubles of late and recently acknowledged the possibility of a future resignation should he "become impaired for medical reasons or whatever."

However, Regoli doesn't foresee the current pope following Benedict's precedent by stepping down any time soon.

"Pope Francis some years ago had discussed the possibility of a future in which there could have been more than one Pope Emeritus, even more than two of them," he says. "Even so, I don't see him anywhere near to thinking about a resignation seriously because I see him in full swing. He is promoting and actively pushing his projects despite the health issues he has, and will continue to do so until he is able to. I certainly cannot imagine him in a room, in a monastery, closed up and inactive."