Pope Francis paid tribute to former pope Benedict XVI and called him a noble, kind man who was a gift to the church and the world. This is his first public comment since the death of his predecessor earlier on Saturday.
Francis spoke in the homily of a previously planned New Year’s Eve vespers of thanksgiving in St Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Francis said: “It is with emotion that we remember his person, so noble, so kind. And we feel in our heart such gratitude, gratitude to God for having gifted him to the church and the world.”
Former Pope Benedict XVI died at his Vatican residence, aged 95, almost a decade after he stood down because of ailing health.
He led the Catholic Church for less than eight years until, in 2013, he became the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.
His successor Pope Francis said he had visited him there frequently.
Several political and religious leaders from the world paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI.
President Joe Biden, a devoted Catholic, said the Pope Emeritus, who stunned the Roman Catholic church when he retired almost 10 years ago, would “be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the church, guided by his principles and faith”.
He added: “May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.”
READ MORE: Crowds flock to London for first time in two years to watch fireworks
Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany, Benedict was 78 when in 2005 he became one of the oldest popes ever elected.
For much of his papacy, the Catholic Church faced allegations, legal claims and official reports into decades of child abuse by priests.