KRAKOW, Poland — Some 800,000 people gathered in a vast field in Krakow to join in Pope John Paul II’s funeral by video link, and schools and businesses closed across the country as Poland mourned a national hero.
Many in Krakow spent the night in the Blonie meadows after a service Thursday that drew a million people to the place where John Paul celebrated several Masses during his visits to the city. John Paul studied for the priesthood and served as bishop and archbishop in Krakow.
People in the meadow sang along with the hymns from the service in Rome Friday as they watched on huge television screens, and applauded the homily by the celebrant, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.
‘The most wonderful man in the world’
“I could not go to Rome, but here I am in Rome under the skies of Krakow,” said Genowefa Hanusiak, a 60-year-old retired teacher. “This was the most wonderful man in the world, and we want to thank him for everything he has done for us, for everything he has done for the world.”
In Warsaw, sirens wailed for three minutes to announce the start of the funeral to the capital. Stores and schools closed, major newspapers did not publish, and pictures of the pope with black ribbons hung in windows everywhere.
In John Paul’s small hometown of Wadowice, people gathered in front of his baptismal church wept as they watched his coffin carried into St. Peter’s Basilica for burial.
Word spread by text message and television for people across Poland to turn out their lights for five minutes at 9:37 p.m., the time the pope died Saturday.
People packed Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square where the pope celebrated Mass before a million people during his first visit to Poland as pope in 1979. Others gathered in the Old Town in front of Saint Ann’s Church to watch the funeral on television screens.
“The pope was an extraordinary person and did great things,” said 18-year-old high school student Janek Chorzewski as he watched the funeral start. “We should follow his example.”
‘A feeling of pride’
Urszula Hurtowska brought her two children to watch the broadcast. “The pope was always an inspiration to my family,” the 27-year-old said. “No one ever gave us such a feeling of pride that we were born as Poles.”
In Krakow’s Blonie meadows, there were only five screens for the huge space, but that didn’t seem to matter to the people who consider John Paul one of their own.
“The point is not in looking but in being here together, just as we were always here together during his visits,” said Gosia Glinska, 23, a student at the Fine Arts Academy of Krakow.
Television and radio bulletins told people to bring food, water, even prescription medicine if they needed it for the gathering. Many people lugged blankets or folding chairs.
A Mass in the meadow Thursday night drew an estimated 1 million people, who turned the field into a sea of glowing candles.
In the pope’s hometown of Wadowice, the square in front of St. Mary’s Basilica where he was baptized was filled with some 15,000 people from the town and surrounding area watching the funeral on a large television screen. An orchestra of firefighters played his favorite song, “The Barge.”
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