Leaders from around the world are mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was the first pope in modern history to step down from his position and died Saturday at age 95.
Benedict made history in 2013 when he became the first pope to resign, instead of serving for the rest of his life, in almost 600 years. He said at the time of his decision that because of his advanced age he no longer had the “strengths” required for the “adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
The Holy See had said before Benedict’s death that his health had been worsening due to his age, and Pope Francis asked for prayers for him on Wednesday as he was “very ill.”
World leaders praised Benedict’s service to the church and efforts to spread its teachings and peace around the globe.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called Benedict “a giant of faith and reason” who devoted his life to the service of the church.
The leader of Benedict’s native country, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, tweeted that the former pope was a special leader for many, not only in Germany. He said the world lost a “formidable figure” of the church, a “controversial personality” and a “clever theologian.”
The legacy of Benedict XVI, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, is complicated as the Catholic Church faced numerous child sexual abuse scandals under his papacy and he faced accusations that he ignored allegations of abuse against church officials while he served as an archbishop.
He received a mixture of praise and criticism for his choice to step down. Following the decision, he was succeeded by the more liberal Pope Francis, who has ushered in a more progressive era for the church.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that Benedict sent a “strong signal” through his resignation in that he saw himself as a servant of his church.
“Once his physical strength waned, he continued to serve through the power of his prayers,” she said.
Benedict was also viewed as a great scholar whose writings addressed spiritual and social issues.
Irish President Michael Higgins said in a statement that Benedict will be remembered for his “untiring efforts” to find a path to promote peace and goodwill throughout the world, including his interest in achieving peace in Northern Ireland.
“Of particular importance was that during his tenure, Pope Benedict sought to highlight both the common purpose of the world’s major religions and his injunctions as to how our individual responsibilities as citizens require the highest standards of ethics in our actions,” Higgins said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that Benedict devoted his life to the teachings of the church and Jesus and will be remembered for his “rich service” to society.
“My thoughts are with the millions around the world who grieve his passing,” he said.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Benedict’s 2010 visit to the UK was a historic moment for Catholics and non-Catholics in the country and he was saddened to learn of the former pope’s death.