Rome, Sep 24 (EFE).- Pope Francis went Sunday by surprise to the funeral chapel of the former president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, who died Friday at age 98 and whose coffin also passed before the protagonists of the political life of the country.
The farewell to Napolitano, the first exponent of the Italian Communist Party to hold the highest state office between 2006 and 2015, will last until Tuesday, when a “secular” state funeral, without religious allusions, will be held in the Chamber of Deputies.
The Senate hosts until Monday the funeral chapel of the former head of state and, in one of its rooms, the coffin covered by a simple Italian flag, and at his feet, a velvet cushion with the Cordon of the Grand Cross of the Republic was installed.
To one side, to receive the condolences of authorities and citizens, Napolitano’s family was placed: his wife, Clio Bittoni, in a wheelchair, to whom he was married for six decades -who left the ceremony early-, as well as their two children and grandchildren.
The first to arrive was his successor and current head of state, Sergio Mattarella, welcomed as protocol dictates by the president of the Upper House, Ignazio La Russa.
Then, at mid-morning, Pope Francis arrived after presiding over the Sunday Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace and a day after an apostolic journey in the French city of Marseilles.
The Argentine pontiff, whose first visit to the Italian Senate had not been announced by the Vatican, arrived aboard a car and entered the building in the center of Rome in a wheelchair due to his known knee problems.
Once inside, Francis stood up, offered his condolences to the widow and her family, and then prayed for a few minutes before the coffin.
He then left the Senate, again in a wheelchair, to return to the Vatican, but not before leaving a message in the book of condolences: “A memory and a gesture of gratitude to a great man, servant of the homeland,” he wrote in his handwriting.
Napolitano was one of the protagonists of Italian politics in the 20th century, after the war, as a communist exponent, president of the Chamber of Deputies, Minister of the Interior, Euro-parliamentarian, and senator for life, among other positions throughout his life.
But his career reached its zenith in 2006 when he was elected President of the Republic, having to watch over the stability of a country accustomed to turbulence on countless occasions, which earned him the nickname of “King Giorgio.”
His nine years at the country’s helm had key moments, such as when he pushed Silvio Berlusconi to resign in 2011 amid the economic crisis, replacing him with the technocratic asset of Mario Monti, with the support of Europe and not without reluctance from the Italian right.
He also had to resolve the political deadlock after the 2013 elections due to the rise of the populists of the Five Star Movement, giving the Executive to Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party.
His influence was such that that same year, when he was due to finish his work in the Quirinale, he had to repeat in office given the political deadlock to find him a successor. He reluctantly accepted, being the first to revalidate the position until he could resign in 2015.
These days, the Italian political class, especially from the center-left area, has thanked him for his work for democracy and the country’s governance.
The funeral chapel was attended by the Prime Minister, the far-right Giorgia Meloni, and the head of the opposition and leader of the Democratic Party, Elly Schlein, as well as the European Commissioner for the Economy and former Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, among others.
The funeral will culminate next Tuesday with a secular state funeral, without religious references, in the Chamber of Deputies from 11:30 local time (9:30 GMT).
The Government will proclaim national mourning throughout the day. However, flags are already flying at half-mast in all public buildings in the country and diplomatic missions abroad. EFE