President and Taoiseach join tributes to 'humble' Pope Benedict

President and Taoiseach join tributes to 'humble' Pope Benedict

PRESIDENT Michal D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are among the leading Irish figures to pay tribute to Pope Emeritus Benedict who died on Saturday.

The 95-year-old former Pontiff passed away at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, where he had resided since resigning the papacy in 2013.

His funeral will take place on Thursday, president over by Pope Francis.

In offering his condolences, President Higgins said Pope Benedict had a 'steadfast interest' in peace in Northern Ireland.

The former Pontiff's health had deteriorated recently (Image: SVEN HOPPE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

"It is with sadness that Catholics around the world will have learned of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI," said the President.

"At this time of the return of war on our continent and in so many areas of the world, he will be remembered for his untiring efforts to find a common path in promoting peace and goodwill throughout the world, including a steadfast interest in peace in Northern Ireland."

He added: "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."

'Great strength of character'

Tánaiste Micheál Martin also highlighted the Pontiff's desire for peace in the North and around the world.

"Pope Emeritus Benedict will hold a special place in the collective memory of Catholics the world over, as the first Pope in almost 600 years to retire," he said.

"He showed great strength of character and humility in leaving the papacy at a time when, by his own analysis, his declining health meant he could not provide the leadership he felt the Church required at the time.

"He will be remembered for his commitment to global peace including in Northern Ireland and particularly for those of the Catholic faith as a respected theologian and scholar."

Pope Benedict XVI delivering his Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on April 4, 2010 (Image: L'Osservatore Romano — Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Mr Martin's successor as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, praised the 'humble' former Pope and offered his condolences to those affected by his death.

"Leading the Catholic Church for almost a decade, the son of a police officer & a cook, the first German elected as Pope in 1,000 years, he was ultimately a 'humble worker in [the] vineyard of the Lord'," said the Taoiseach.

"Today my thoughts are with Archbishop Eamon Martin and with all those in Ireland who will find the news of his passing as both saddening but also difficult."

'Kindly and personable'

Offering prayerful condolences on the death of the Pope Emeritus, Archbishop Martin, Primate of All Ireland, spoke of Benedict's interest in Ireland.

In 2010, the Pontiff issued a Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland acknowledging 'the serious sins committed against defenceless children' by clergy in the country, adding that he was 'truly sorry' for their suffering.

"On a personal level, it was his characteristic humility and gentleness which struck me when I first met him in 2009 while visiting the Vatican as Executive Secretary to the Irish Bishops' Conference," said Archbishop Martin.

"I found him to be calm and softly spoken, kindly and personable, and genuinely interested in the Church in Ireland.

"Having met the Irish bishops in Rome in February 2010, he issued a unique Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland expressing profound sorrow for those grievously wounded by abuse in the Church.

Archbishop Eamon Martin (Image: Sam Boal/

"The then pope called for urgent action to address the legacy of abuse which, he said, has had 'such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families', and which has 'obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing'."

Archbishop Martin added: "He often admired the huge contribution of generations of Irish men and women to the Church, and to humanity, and he took a special interest in the work of early Celtic missionaries like Saint Columbanus to spread the Gospel in Europe and to Europe's spiritual identity.

"He followed closely, and prayerfully, the peace process as it matured."

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's remains will rest at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery until the morning of Monday, January 2, after which his body will lie in state in St Peter’s Basilica.

Following his funeral, his remains will be taken to the Vatican Grottos where he will be laid to rest.