Archive for Saturday, April 9, 2005

World leaders, Catholic faithful from every walk of life converge

Millions bid pope a final farewell

April 9, 2005

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— Before an immense crowd of the powerful and the humble, amid cheers, laughter, tears and shouts of "saint," the Roman Catholic Church said goodbye to Pope John Paul II on Friday in a two-and-a-half-hour funeral Mass that was broadcast to nearly every corner of the world.

The ceremony, a rich pageant of prayer and song in a variety of languages, was seen in churches, homes and open-air gathering places throughout Europe and the Americas, as well as Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In Italy, even MTV carried it without interruption.

It was probably one of the most-witnessed religious gatherings of modern times.

An estimated 350,000 stood in and around St. Peter's Square, but the virtual community of celebrants was much, much larger. Another 650,000 Romans and pilgrims were believed to have watched on giant television screens near churches, the Colosseum and elsewhere.

In Krakow, Poland, where Karol Wojtyla had been archbishop, 800,000 gathered to watch the funeral on television in a field where he'd preached in 2002. In Paris, mourners packed Notre Dame cathedral. Thousands gathered before a screen in Calcutta; thousands more in Manila. Hundreds even came out in Hanoi, the capital of communist Vietnam, which doesn't have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Cuban state television broadcast the service live.

"For all of us, he remains unforgettable," they heard the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals, say in Italian during the homily, which was interrupted frequently by applause from the sea of people spilling out of St. Peter's Square.

Ratzinger asked the crowd to recall "that last Easter Sunday of his life, when the Holy Father, in extreme suffering, appeared once again at the window of the Apostolic Palace. ... And I think we can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of his father's house, and he sees us and he blesses us."

The scene was a colorful tableau. Ratzinger and the other cardinals -- the Princes of the Church, one of them probably the next pope -- wore flowing red robes and white miters as they faced the congregation from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

Around them were lesser prelates in lavish purple vests.

The wooden casket bearing the remains of Pope John Paul II is
carried into St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. World leaders and a
million mourners attended the funeral Mass for the pontiff Friday.

The wooden casket bearing the remains of Pope John Paul II is carried into St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. World leaders and a million mourners attended the funeral Mass for the pontiff Friday.

World leaders

Seated at the very front of the congregation were dozens of dark-suited world leaders, delegations from some 92 countries. President Bush was in the proximity of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Robert Mugabe, the oft-criticized president of the African nation of Zimbabwe.

It was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever, yet they were simply part of the backdrop. On his way back to Washington, Bush said, "This will be one of the highlights of my presidency, being at this great ceremony."

Simplicity and pageantry

The simple cypress coffin that held the pope's body rested in the sunlight.

Ratzinger, 77, a controversial doctrinal conservative who's been mentioned as a possible next pope, led the service. He recalled the late pope's roots in Poland under the Nazi occupation, and his global outreach as history's most traveled pope.








"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality. Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," Ratzinger said.

Lay people offered short prayers in six languages -- French, Swahili, Filipino, Polish, German and Portuguese -- after Ratzinger's homily.

Some 320 priests were dispatched into the crowd to allow as many people as possible to take communion.

Many of the people who packed the square for the funeral had spent the night, stealing sleep while leaning up against cold stone buildings.

The usually chaotic streets of the Eternal City were silent during the funeral, empty of most vehicular traffic. People walked to one of 25 designated viewing spots, many of them Poles who'd arrived after a grueling trip.

Mourners crowd St. Peter's Square during the funeral Mass for Pope
John Paul II. An estimated 350,000 people stood in and around the
square for Friday's service in Vatican City.

Mourners crowd St. Peter's Square during the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II. An estimated 350,000 people stood in and around the square for Friday's service in Vatican City.

When the two-hour-and-40-minute funeral Mass was over, a dozen pallbearers wearing white gloves, white ties and tails hoisted the coffin and tilted it one last time to the crowd, which cheered and applauded.

They took the late pope's body into the church, and the bells of Rome's churches began to toll.

Inside the basilica, in a scene depicted in Vatican photos, the cypress coffin was placed in a second casket of zinc, which was put into a third layer of walnut. It was carried deep under the basilica, the resting place of popes through the centuries, including, many Catholics believe, the first pope, the Apostle Peter.

Pope John Paul requested in his last will and testament to be buried "in the bare earth." His tomb was covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death. Eventually, the tomb will be open to visitors, as other papal tombs are.

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