ROME — At the point where the line starts, it’s a brisk parade of mourners just arriving. But then, the reality, the enormity, of this human event sets in. In a line that stretches for miles, snaking through the streets, it takes hours for the pilgrims to pay their respects.
How many hours have three Italian sisters been waiting in line?
"From 12 noon and we have about three more hours to go," says one of the sister.s
To make sure they don't all push forward at one time, the mourners are stopped periodically by a wall of police officers. Then they're released, to make their way to the Vatican.
In the line, we found two college students from the states who are attending college in Europe and couldn't bear watching it on TV and not being here.
"We took a couple of days off and we're going to have to make it up at the end of the year, but we came over here to pay our respects," says student Aaron Decker.
And there was John Paul from Minnesota. He was born just after the pope was elected, and named for the pope he came here to mourn. This is a calling and a namesake for him.
"Indeed, and a vocation," he says.
Some have traveled 30 hours to get here. All incoming trains and planes are booked full. Four thousand buses are expected. Many will have to sleep in stadiums.
Also in line, where the Vatican finally comes into view for those who have waited so long, we found U.S. Army Colonel Keith Geiger. Stationed in Belgium, he was an aide to commanding General Ricardo Sanchez in the Iraq war. He brought his family here to be a part of this and to see one of the giants of his lifetime, now at rest.
"I'm a Catholic, and have been my entire life," says Col. Geiger. "We were coming to Rome to show our daughters Rome and the Vatican and we were going to certainly be a part of this. It's something that's been an important part of my life. He's really the pope that I know, the pope that I've seen, so you know, it’s kind of tough to say goodbye."
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints