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Pope laid to rest after emotional ceremony

An emotional farewell to Pope John Paul II took place in Rome on Friday as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, as well as dozens of political and religious leaders from around the world, crowded St. Peter's Square for an open-air funeral Mass.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Presidents, prime ministers and kings joined pilgrims and prelates in St. Peter’s Square on Friday to bid an emotional farewell to Pope John Paul II at a funeral that drew millions to Rome.

Applause rang out in the wind-whipped square as John Paul’s plain cypress coffin, adorned with a cross and an “M” for the Virgin Mary, was brought out from St. Peter’s Basilica and placed on a carpet in front of the altar. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and the breeze fluttered its pages.

After the Mass ended, bells tolled and 12 pallbearers with white gloves, white ties and tails presented the coffin to the crowd one last time, and then carried it on their shoulders back inside the basilica for burial — again to sustained applause from the hundreds of thousands in the square, including dignitaries from 138 countries.

Chants of “Santo! Santo!” — urging John Paul to be elevated to sainthood immediately — echoed in the square.

The first non-Italian pope in 455 years was buried at 2:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m. EDT) in the grotto under the basilica, attended by prelates and members of the papal household, the Vatican said.

Nearly 4 million people jammed into Rome since the pope died Saturday, doubling the city’s population. There has been no major violence despite the crowds and the many dignitaries, including heads of state, although an apparent miscommunication after the funeral prompted Italian air force jets to intercept a plane flying in to pick up an official delegation.

The 2½-hour Mass began with the Vatican’s Sistine Choir singing the Gregorian chant, “Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord.” Cardinals wearing white miters walked onto the square, their red vestments blowing in the breeze.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, presided at the Mass and referred to him as our “late beloved pope” in a homily that traced the pontiff’s life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to his final days as the head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

Drowned out by applause
Interrupted by applause at least 10 times, the usually unflappable German-born Ratzinger choked up as he recalled one of John Paul’s last public appearances — when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter.

“We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us,” he said to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.

“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 in heavily accented Italian.

He said John Paul was a “priest to the last” and said he had offered his life for God and his flock “especially amid the sufferings of his final months.”

Ratzinger was interrupted again toward the end of the Mass by several minutes of cheers, rhythmic applause and shouts of “Giovanni Paolo Santo” or “Saint John Paul,” from the crowd. The eruption of cheers came right before the Litany of Saints chant, in which the names of the saints are read.

The Mass ended with everyone standing and singing together: “May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem.”

John Paul requested in his last will and testament to be interred “in the bare earth,” and he was laid to rest among the pontiffs from centuries past near the tomb traditionally believed to be of the apostle Peter, the first pope.

The coffin was definitively closed with red bands and both papal and Vatican seals, and nested inside a second casket of zinc and then within a third of walnut. The outside casket bears the name of the pope, his cross and his papal coat of arms.

The casket was then lowered into the ground in a plot inside a small chapel, between the tombs of two women: Queen Christina of Sweden and Queen Carlotta of Cyprus, said a senior Vatican official who attended the ceremony.

Closed to the public, the service was witnessed by top Vatican prelates and performed by the camerlengo, or chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo. He concluded with the words: “Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him.”

Photos made available to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano showed workers welding the zinc coffin shut inside the walnut casket, then fastening its wooden lid with a drill. The casket was then lowered into a crypt with chains and straps on a pulley.

John Paul’s tomb will be covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican would announce in a few days when the grotto would be reopened to the public.

300,000 in the square
At least 300,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square and spilled out onto the wide Via della Conciliazione leading toward the Tiber River, but millions of others watched on giant video screens set up across Rome. Banners read “Santo Subito,” or “Sainthood Immediately.” Many millions more watched around the world.

Funerals in the last century for Mohandas Gandhi of India, Mao Zedong of China and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran drew millions, too, but they lacked the presence of leaders from so many nations that came to mourn the pope.

St. Peter’s Square and the boulevard leading to it were a sea of red and white flags waved by pilgrims from John Paul’s native Poland, many in traditional dress shouting “Polska! Polska!” Pilgrims from other countries raised their national flags in the crowd — American, Lebanese, Spanish, Croatian — and prayers were read out during the Mass in a host of languages — French, Swahili, Portuguese, among others.

“We just wanted to say goodbye to our father for the last time,” said Joanna Zmijewsla, 24, who traveled for 30 hours with her brother from a town near Kielce, Poland, arriving at St. Peter’s at 1 a.m. Friday.

American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted dignitaries and religious leaders as they emerged onto the steps of the basilica.

Turbans, fezzes, yarmulkes, black lace veils, or mantillas, joined the “zucchettos,” or skull caps, of Catholic prelates on the steps of St. Peter’s in an extraordinary mix of religious and government leaders from around the world.

“I’m here because I’m a believer but also to live a moment in history,” said Stephan Aubert, wearing a French flag draped over his shoulders.

Vatican ushers seated dignitaries who were given a chance to view John Paul’s body before it was carried out of the basilica — where it has lain in state since Monday — and into the square.

Bells tolled as the final leaders took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. Ten minutes before the start of the funeral, the U.S. delegation arrived, headed by President Bush, and including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton.

President Bush sat on the aisle in the second row, next to his wife, Laura. Beside them were French President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette. The two presidents shook hands.

Jewish and Muslim leaders were among the dignitaries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, and the king of Jordan.

Others in crowd included U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Polish President Lech Walesa, and Britain’s Prince Charles, who delayed his wedding one day so he could attend.

Rome itself was at a standstill as extraordinary security measures were put in place. Just after midnight Thursday, a ban on vehicle traffic in the city center took effect. Airspace was closed, and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert. Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.

Covering all the intersections
Elite Carabinieri paramilitary police armed with automatic rifles were stationed at virtually every major intersection in Rome.

Combat jets from Italy’s air force, joined by an AWACS surveillance plane deployed by NATO, guarded against any strike from above. Italian security agencies posted snipers on rooftops.

Three hours after the funeral, an Italian F-16 jet fighter intercepted a suspicious plane heading to Rome’s Ciampino airport and escorted it to a local military airfield, Italian news agencies reported. The ANSA agency quoted air force chief Leonardo Tricarico as saying intelligence indicated there might be a bomb on the plane, but none was found.

Officials in Belgrade said the plane had been sent to fly home the official delegation from Serbia-Montenegro, but it was not immediately clear if this was the same plane.

The pope’s death on Saturday at age 84 elicited a remarkable outpouring of affection worldwide.

In Krakow, Poland, where John Paul studied for the priesthood, about 800,000 people watched the funeral on three TV screens set up in a field. Many had spent the night around bonfires after a Thursday night Mass drew a million people.

Sirens wailed in Warsaw for three minutes to announce the start of the funeral to the Polish capital. Some 25,000 people packed Pilsudski Square where the pope celebrated Mass during his first visit to his homeland as pope.

The faithful also gathered across Africa, Asia and in the Americas to watch the service on television or to pray for John Paul.

Before the Mass, there was an intimate ceremony inside the basilica, attended only by high-ranking prelates, who placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of his life in his coffin.

The scroll said John Paul’s “love for the young” inspired him to begin World Youth Days. The account traces his life from his birth through his election as pope and mentions highlights of his papacy, including his efforts to reach out to Jews and other non-Catholics and his travels with a “tireless missionary spirit.”

A white silk veil
His longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, placed a white silk veil over the pope’s face before the coffin was closed.

Dziwisz was seen weeping at several occasions during the Mass.

In his will, released by the Vatican on the eve of the funeral, John Paul gave instructions for his burial and also told Dziwisz to burn his personal notes upon his death. He also suggested he considered resigning in 2000, when his infirmities were already apparent. Revising his will just three days before a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, John Paul prayed that God would “help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service.”

On Thursday, the huge bronze doors of St. Peter’s were closed to the public in preparation for the Mass. In four days, some estimates say nearly 2 million pilgrims passed by his bier to pay their last respects.

The College of Cardinals will meet beginning April 18 in its conclave to elect a successor.

Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by kids with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up at the Circus Maximus and elsewhere around the city to take the spillover from hotels. Hawkers jacked up prices of everything from bottled water to papal trinkets.