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3:00 a.m. hour of special coverage for April 8, 2005

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Bill Fitzgerald, Natalie Allen, Jim Maceda, Kelly O‘Donnell, Fr. Anthony Figueiredo, Michelle Hofland, Janet Shamlian, Chris Matthews, Chris Jansing, Msgr. John Strynkowski, Stephen Weeke, Andrea Mitchell>

BILL FITZGERALD, MSNBC ANCHOR:  You are taking a live look at Vatican City right now, as millions, literally, have made their way to Rome to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II.

Hello, and good morning, everyone.  I‘m Bill Fitzgerald.

NATALIE ALLEN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And I‘m Natalie Allen.  Whether you‘re just waking up or staying up to watch this, we thank you for joining us this morning.

FITZGERALD:  The funeral mass for Pope John Paul II is scheduled to start in just about an hour.  NBC‘s Jim Maceda is live in Rome, where millions are gathering for this historic event at the end of what must seem like the longest street in the world.  Good morning to you, Jim.

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It does seem like the longest street in the world, Bill.  It‘s only about 1,000 yards or so long.  We‘re talking about Via Conciliazione, the main boulevard that leads from outskirts, the edge of Rome, right into the border of Vatican City and into that vast square, St. Peter‘s Square, and then of course, that extraordinary 16th century St. Peter‘s Basilica behind me.

Now, I‘m going to ask Litzia (ph), my cameraman, to zoom a little bit over my shoulder to give you a feel for what it looks like now, as thousands upon thousands of people and a lot of red-and-white flags—those are the flags of Poland—have now packed, filled up that street.  And you have to understand that what you‘re not seeing are, well, millions.  It‘s hard to say how many.  There‘s no accurate count—two, three, four?  We‘ve heard up to five million people spilling out from the arteries that lead this part of central Rome, people, of course, trying to get a feel, to be a witness to this remarkable event, especially the Poles, who have come in by the busloads, the trains, coming up all the way up until today.  Buses are still arriving on the outskirts of Rome.  There‘s a complete car ban, vehicle ban now, private vehicle ban, in the city, but that doesn‘t stop people from walking here.

The TV—you may have seen TV screens in that shot.  There are 27 huge screens just in this part of central Rome, to allow people to follow this.  There will, of course, thousands of special guests, secular and church officials, world leaders, including President Bush, his father, Bush, Sr., and former president Bill Clinton, watching from their vantage point there on that huge square that is St. Peter‘s Square.

You mentioned—you were talking a little bit earlier about security.  To give it a little bit of context, we heard that there are 15,000 to 20,000 Italian police now on the streets, including up to 7,000 Italian soldiers, from the armed forces, to provide security.  There‘s a no-fly zone.  You mentioned the AWACS spy plane.  All of that dealing with an extraordinary event in a city that has known many extraordinary events before, in terms of crowd control, but nothing ever quite like this.

John Paul, of course, after that three-hour funeral mass, relatively—it‘s a very high mass with a special liturgy that will be read, many songs, many Psalms, as well.  He will be buried in the crypt.  That was his decision.  That was his will, part of his will, that was revealed yesterday, that he wrote over a 20-year period.  He‘ll be buried with other popes in what they call the Tomb of the Popes beneath St. Peter‘s Basilica.  And then they‘ll be following—following that will be a nine-day period of official mourning, and then, of course, on April 18, the beginning of the business of voting for a new pope.

But Bill, this is all about Pope John Paul today and an extraordinary testimony to how he simply transcended international politics and was a man of peace.  Back to you, Bill.

FITZGERALD:  And there are so many riveting pictures.  Thank you so much, NBC‘s Jim Maceda in Rome this morning—Natalie.

ALLEN:  All right.  Thanks, Bill.

The pope‘s passing strikes a poignant chord with the people of Poland, as we‘ve been sharing with you this week, the pontiff‘s native country.  And many Poles held all-night vigils for the late pope.  NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell joins us live now from Krakow, Poland, with the very latest from there.  Hello, there, Kelly.

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good morning, Natalie.  Thousands are already here, and in every direction, as I look, so many more are streaming toward this meadow.  This meadow will be a place where as many as several hundred thousand Polish people will gather to view the funeral as one.  Giant screens are erected here, and they‘ll be able to watch the services from the Vatican.  But this has been a prayerful place all night and early this morning, vigils through the night from many of the young people who camped out this morning, much music, a mass in Polish being celebrated.

And this place, known as the Blonie Meadow, holds great significance.  On his many return trips to Poland—at least four different occasions beginning in 1979, again through the ‘80s, ‘90s and in 2002 -- John Paul, the man they know Jan Pawel here, celebrated masses at this meadow.  At the peak, there were more than one million people who came from all over Poland to attend those masses.  So they are preparing for huge crowds again today.

This celebration of his life is something that has really—we‘ve watched the turnover these days from the initial sorrow and grief at his loss, the coping that began to happen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more celebration.  Last evening, there was the White March.  It‘s called that because most of those who were in the procession through the streets wore white.  They carried the Vatican flags of yellow and white, as well as the Polish flag.  That White March also holds significance because back in 1981, when the pope was shot in that assassination attempt, the White March was a means of praying for his survival.  Now, they say, it is more about gratitude, thanking him for his lifelong service to the Polish people.

This place is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because there is a rock, a very simple but large rock that was erected here, the rock being a symbol of the church and its leader.  It‘s been here for some time now as a tribute to John Paul, and now it carries the significance of being a memorial, as well.

Lots of young people are here.  The city of Krakow has a population of about 750,000, and when we‘ve asked people, How many do you expect, they sort of warmly, lovingly say, Well, half of them are in Rome, and those who did not make that journey, many will come here to share the service, to watch what‘s happening at the Vatican, and in their own language, to remember John Paul, to thank him for his commitment to the Polish people and to come together as a family.

That‘s what we‘re seeing here, and we expect that many, many more will fill this field in the hours to come—Natalie.

ALLEN:  All right.  Thanks so much, Kelly O‘Donnell, bringing us the scene live this morning from Krakow, Poland.  Thanks, Kelly.

The funeral will begin in just about an hour, a little bit less than an hour, and last-minute preparations are under way for the mass.  Joining me now, former papal assistant and MSNBC analyst Father Anthony Figueiredo.  Once again...


ALLEN:  ... thanks for being here.  This will happen in three phases, and what‘s going on right now actually is the first phase, the private rites, where he‘s attended by those who knew him the closest, right?  And even his personal assistant is putting that white silk veil over the face of the pope.

FIGUEIREDO:  Very significant, Natalie.  As we speak, this is all taking place on Friday, God‘s Friday commemorating the Passion of Christ, the entry into the Resurrection.  His personal secretary, Archbishop Dziwisz, will place that white silk cover on the Holy Father‘s face, his last act as his secretary, to signify that we pass from the dimmed veil of this life into now a new life with God.

Also very interesting is that in the cypress wood coffin, three bags will be placed of silver, gold and bronze coins.  This will be the only monetary reward that the Holy Father will receive for 27 years of his pontificate.  He will be buried with not the traditional red embroidered slippers, but in fact, he‘s chosen himself to be buried with those leather brown shoes signifying all of his travels during his years.

ALLEN:  Oh, how touching!  And how fitting that he would do that.  Let‘s talk about the funeral itself.  People will see a lot of ancient traditions during this funeral?

FIGUEIREDO:  That‘s right.  What we are seeing, the body will be carried out in that cypress coffin, brought to the front of the basilica, and there the cardinals, and also, for the first time, I believe, the patriarchs of the Eastern churches will also celebrate to signify the unity of the church.  The mass will continue then as a normal mass, again signifying the greatness of this pope, he was an ordinary man.

I think it‘s very significant, Natalie, that he‘s chosen as one of his readings a Gospel reading, the Gospel from John, where Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me?, three times to cancel the triple denial.  And in fact, in that Gospel, you also hear that Jesus says, When you‘re old, you will stretch out your arms, is signifying the kind of death that Peter was to die.  And then he says to Peter, “Follow me.”  I think that‘s exactly what happened to the Holy Father.

ALLEN:  And then, finally, the burial will not be public.  That is something that happens with just a few attending.  That‘s correct?

FIGUEIREDO:  Yes.  Absolutely.  After the mass is finished, he‘ll be taken back in the basilica, down the crypt, interestingly through what is called the Door of Death.

ALLEN:  Door of Death, yes.

FIGUEIREDO:  Yes.  And the bell will toll at that time.  He‘ll be taken to the crypt, placed in the ground, in the bare earth, as he wished, in the tomb of Pope John XXIII.  From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

ALLEN:  Thank you so much, Father.  We appreciate that.

And now back over to Bill.

FITZGERALD:  All right, thanks, Natalie.  Americans are joining the rest of the world today, as we all witness this amazing historic, profound and pivotal event at the Vatican.  Coming up, we‘ll go to Chicago and San Antonio to hear what Americans are thinking.

But first, you‘re taking another live look at the scene, looking towards St. Peter‘s Square.


FITZGERALD:  And Welcome back to our coverage of the funeral for Pope John Paul II.  Looking down the Via della Conciliazione toward St. Peter‘s Square, thousands, perhaps millions of pilgrims, dignitaries, clerical figures from all over the world gathered for this very solemn occasion.

ALLEN:  And some of the faithful here in the U.S. who couldn‘t make the trip to Rome are heading to their churches and schools to watch the funeral of Pope John Paul.  We bring you two live reports this morning on those eager to bear witness to the first papal funeral in a quarter century.  Michelle Hofland joins us from Chicago, and Janet Shamlian (ph) joins us from San Antonio, Texas.

And Michelle, we‘ll begin with you at the Five Holy Martyrs Church in Chicago.  Good morning.

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good morning, Natalie.  Hundreds of people throughout the Chicago area are gathering at this Polish Catholic church on the southwest side of town.  This is the largest Polish community, in Chicago, in the entire world outside of Poland.  And also, at this church, the pope has been here three different times, twice as a cardinal and once as a pope back in 1979.  And he performed mass at this altar.

What you‘re seeing behind me is the feed in here from Polish TV.  We‘re seeing—this is so early in the morning, a little after 2:00 o‘clock in the morning, and still we‘re seeing so many people coming in here to watch this event.

Joining me now is Father Gerald Grupzinski.  Thank you very much for joining us.  Tell me, what has been going on here in the past few days?  We have been here off and on.  What kind of response are you getting?  Why do you think so many people are here this early in the morning?

FR. GERALD GRUPZINSKI, FIVE HOLY MARTYRS CHURCH:  Well, it shows their great love and admiration for the Holy Father.  The Five Holy Martyrs parish, of course, is a Polish community of people, and for a Holy Father from Poland, and it may feel that he is their—he is their champion.  He‘s their hero, that somebody from their country, their—their culture, has become somebody—has achieved this status and has been a—become a world leader, really.  And his loss has touched them very, very deeply.  You know, he—he‘s a great man, a great man of faith, a great man of love.  And people just love him.  And the fact that he was here at our parish, like you mentioned, I think the people of this community feel a special closeness, a special tie with him, that he has—he has been here.

And at first, when they—when we found—when they found out that the Holy Father had passed away, we saw people with tears in their eyes, and they were experiencing the great emotion of it.  And I think as the days have gone past that that kind of transformed.  And I think people more pleased and they were more reminiscing about little memories that they had of him and the times that they met him and things that he did.

And I think maybe tonight, this being together, the community of people here in this church where the Holy Father had been, is helping them to say good-bye, being together maybe in a way some way helping them feel like they‘re a part of the funeral ceremony that‘s going on in the Vatican, and just helping them feel a little bit closer to our Holy Father, I think.

HOFLAND:  It‘s really interesting, when I was here throughout the weekend for the services that you had, I saw people bringing in photographs and rosaries that the father had given them during his visit.  And one young man who the father had—the pope had held and hugged when he came—so many people—it‘s—their memories seem—are so fresh in their minds.

GRUPZINSKI:  That‘s right.  Yes.  They have—people have a lot of memorabilia from this Holy Father.  And of course, he was—he‘s very beloved by all of the people.  And you know, I think that—that he‘s going to be very—very much missed by the people.

HOFLAND:  Thank you very much for allowing us in here...

GRUPZINSKI:  Oh, you‘re welcome.

HOFLAND:  ... to share this with everyone.  This is going to be quite a day for you.


HOFLAND:  Thank you very much, Father Grupzinski.

GRUPZINSKI:  Thank you.

HOFLAND:  Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN:  Michelle Hofland.  Thank you so much, Michelle.  Amazing, the people that are sitting there so early this morning.

And now let‘s go live to NBC‘s Janet Shamlian, who‘s at St. Mary‘s University in San Antonio, Texas.  Good morning to you, Janet.

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  And good morning to you, Natalie.  Yes, we are on the campus of St. Mary‘s University.  About 4,000 students go to school here.  It is the largest Catholic university in the Southwest.

I‘m in the University Center, which on a normal day holds pool tables and games, and it‘s a place where people meet and have a good time.  Today it‘s been transformed somewhat.  As you can see behind me, they‘ve set up a large television screen.  There are chairs.  And in a short amount of time, they are expecting college students to come here and to watch the funeral of Pope John Paul together.

I want to bring in now the dean of students.  Her name is Karen Johnson.  And she set this up.  Why are you going to bring the students here, when you would think college students at, let‘s say, 2:30 in the morning Central time would probably be in their dorm rooms watching this, maybe from the comfort of their beds, Karen?

KAREN JOHNSON, DEAN OF STUDENTS, ST. MARY‘S UNIVERSITY:  Well, mission is—our mission is community, bringing people together, joining together for events.  And so we thought it was really important that we have a venue where students can come together—students, faculty and staff, really—to watch the funeral together and share their feelings and share their emotions together.

SHAMLIAN:  So kind of a fellowship to...

JOHNSON:  Right.

SHAMLIAN:  ... enjoy it or to celebrate it or to watch it together?

JOHNSON:  Yes, to be together for this very important historical event.

SHAMLIAN:  And what kind of activity has there been on this Catholic campus in the past week, since the pope‘s death?

JOHNSON:  Last Friday, we had an impromptu prayer service Friday afternoon outside in our quadrangle.  That was really well attended.  It was very nice.  We did—we did the—we said the Rosary together.  And Wednesday, we had a memorial service here on campus for him.

SHAMLIAN:  For these students, who will go on and probably remember where they were during the pope‘s funeral—it‘s one of those events that you probably look back on—is this an important event for them?

JOHNSON:  Absolutely.  The pope is very important to the students here.  He loved students and loved young people, and he‘s well remembered by our students here.

SHAMLIAN:  Karen Johnson, dean of students, thank you very much.

JOHNSON:  Thank you.

SHAMLIAN:  You can see the chairs are empty now, but we are expecting a good crowd in a short amount of time.  And of course, we‘ll bring you reports from here, some of the student reactions, as well.  Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN:  All right.  Thanks so much.  Janet Shamlian, live for us in San Antonio at St. Mary‘s University.  Thanks, Janet.

FITZGERALD:  MSNBC‘s coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II continues after a short break.  The pope had, of course, an enormous influence on the youth of the world.  We‘ll head—we‘ll talk to one young man who says Pope John Paul made a major, lasting impact on his life.

But first, let‘s take another look at the incredible scene unfolding from St. Peter‘s Square, where thousands and millions have come to pay homage to Pope John Paul II.


FITZGERALD:  And joining us now on this somber occasion is Seton Hall University Vito Totino.  Vito saw the pope with a group of students in 2003.  He‘s double majoring in diplomacy and international relations and Italian.

Vito, I know it‘s probably—well, it‘s probably just a late night to you.  It‘s not yet early morning.  But good morning to you.


FITZGERALD:  Tell us, how did you come across Pope John Paul II?

TOTINO:  I had the privilege of seeing him numerous times.  The two that I remember the best were when I went with a group of Seton Hall students in the summer of 2002.  We got to see him at his Wednesday audience.  And then most recently, I went in October of 2003, when he created the 31 new cardinals.

FITZGERALD:  What was that interaction like?  How was his health?  How personal did it feel, as an interaction?

TOTINO:  It felt very person.  I‘ve always felt very close to this pope, and seeing him so close in St. Peter‘s was a great experience for myself.  In 2003, his health had deteriorated tremendously, and at the time wasn‘t doing so well.  Soon after, though, he seemed to have regained his strength.

FITZGERALD:  And as we watch the king and queen of Spain file into St. Peter‘s Square—Vito, we hear so much about his love of young people, his efforts to reach out to young people.  How would you describe—how appropriate, how valid was this pope to people of your generation?

TOTINO:  I think he was an important asset because I believe at the time, a lot of young people were straining away from not only the Catholic Church but from religion in general.  And he was the first pope that—or religious leader that actually took in the young people and didn‘t forget about them.

FITZGERALD:  And how about this morning, as you watch—and presumably, you‘ll watch at least part of the funeral today.  What impact does it have on you?  How—what‘s going through your mind as you watch all this pageantry?

TOTINO:  I‘d have to say that for myself personally, it‘s a very sad experience.  He was the only pope that I knew in my 21 years, and so it‘s going to be hard seeing a new pope.  And it—nothing but sadness, actually, really.

FITZGERALD:  Would you like a new pope to be somewhat more liberal than this pope?

TOTINO:  No.  I can honestly say that I think he did a great job both in the social realm and in the religious realm.  I think that the new pope has big shoes to fill and has a lot to learn from the previous pope.

FITZGERALD:  Well, we thank you so much for taking the time.  Vito Totino from Seton Hall University.  We appreciate it.  We know you have work to do, and thanks for taking the time this morning.

TOTINO:  Thank you.

ALLEN:  And straight ahead here on MSNBC, Chris Matthews and Chris Jansing begin our special coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II, live from Rome.

FITZGERALD:  But let‘s take another live look at the growing crowd in St. Peter‘s Square.


FITZGERALD:  ... Square in Vatican City, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims all awaiting history, among them presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, dignitaries and pilgrims from around the globe, as well as the Catholic faithful from just around the corner, there to witness the funeral of a pope.

And good morning, everyone.  I‘m Bill Fitzgerald.  We‘re going to head to Rome with Chris Matthews and Chris Jansing in just a moment, as we start our coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

ALLEN:  And I‘m Natalie Allen.  The funeral officially begins at 4:00 AM Eastern time.  For the next three-and-a-half hours, we‘ll bring you live coverage of the event some are calling the largest funeral in history.

Jim Maceda is there, as well, and we‘re going to go now live to Jim Maceda at Vatican City—Jim.

MACEDA:  Yes.  Hi, there, Natalie and Bill.  Well, I‘m coming to you from Via Conciliazione.  That‘s Reconciliation Boulevard.  It is the main avenue that leads about 1,000 meters or so from our vantage point into that vast, cavernous St. Peter‘s Square and the 16th century basilica.  All eyes are on this particular road today.

As I look around me—and I‘ll ask Mitzia (ph), my cameraman, to zoom over my shoulder to give you a better feel for how this is packing now with thousands upon thousands of pilgrims.  I can see them still flowing in from the northern approach and the southern approach to this main boulevard.  You don‘t see hundreds of thousands who are on smaller arterial streets, if you will, that are—that pump into or lead to this main boulevard.  You see a lot of red-and-white flags representing Poland, people who are still arriving as we speak to the outskirts of Rome by bus, by train, and who are walking in large groups, 100, 200 at a time, coming here with their Polish flags.  A lot of Polish-Americans, as well.

I had the people yesterday to actually walk on that—the line of people on the last day of the four-day opportunity to see the pope lying in state.  And where I was in that line—which, by the way, took us 13 hours to get to see the pope—there were a tremendous number of Polish-Americans, very emotional individuals, who were carrying photo albums and paraphernalia, various souvenirs of the pope, even some who did not necessarily agree, Natalie, with some of the pope‘s more conservative, some would say ultra-conservative, positions on abortion and ordination of women priests, for instance, on birth control.  They say that they simply had to be here, that this was, indeed, an icon of the past century.

We mentioned that this will last three hours—this will last three hours, and there are, of course, 2,000 to 3,000 important individuals of the church and state, world leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair from Great Britain, President George Bush, his father, George Bush, Sr., former president Bill Clinton and an interesting mix of others, an indication that this pope did transcend international politics and contemporary tensions.  The president of Iran is here, Mohammed Khatami, the president of Syria, Bashar al Assad, as well, all of these people proclaiming that this pope was truly a man of international peace.

Now, John Paul is going to be buried—it turns out that this was his wish that he expressed in a will that he wrote over a 20-year period, that was published for the first time yesterday, in record time—he will be buried under the crypt, under the St. Peter‘s Basilica in what they call the Tomb of the Popes.  That will then trigger a nine-day period of official mourning, after which begins the conclave, when the College of Cardinals finally meet—that will be on the 18th of April, to begin the secretive, some would say arcane business of electing the next pope.

But today, this is all about Pope John Paul II.  This is all about bearing witness to a man who marked his century and clearly—clearly triggered and inspired people from around the world to come and bear that witness.  Back to you.

ALLEN:  All right, Jim Maceda, thanks so much.  We‘re seeing Prince Charles right now arriving.  We just saw Prime Minister Blair, whom he pointed out, and his wife, Cheri.  So the dignitaries are starting to fill their seats right now, as we‘re just 25 minutes away from the start of this funeral.

FITZGERALD:  And now we‘re going to go back out to Rome, where Chris Matthews and Chris Jansing are standing by to continue our coverage here on MSNBC of the funeral for Pope John Paul II.  Chris and Chris, take it away.

ALLEN:  Good morning.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you.  Let me—let me lay it out for people who are familiar with Catholic masses of Christian burial.  This is a very familiar ritual we‘re going to see in the next several hours.  It‘s a Catholic mass of Christian burial, just like anyone else would have, except it will be said with tremendous solemnity.  It will be a slower-paced service than we‘re used to getting in our local parishes.  And I‘m talking, of course, to people who aren‘t Catholic, as well as Catholics here who are familiar with that kind of what we used to call the requiem mass some 30 years ago.  It‘s the mass of Christian burial this morning, just like everyone else.

What‘s interesting is, of course, the solemnity and the speed.  It will be a very slow-paced service.  And also, in order to recognize the Eastern rites in the Catholic Church, those in the Ukraine, and of course, in the other parts of the East, in Greece and others who are still allied with Rome, who‘ve actually came back to Rome after the Great Schism.  They came back in under the understanding that they would be allowed to maintain their rites.  So there‘ll be occasions during this otherwise Latin mass where you‘re going to be seeing Greek elements.  Some of the—some of the readings will be in that—will be given in Greek, and there‘ll be some Greek hymns.

And it‘ll all be conducted by Joseph Ratzinger, who‘s been a cardinal since 1976 -- 1977, rather, and he‘s the dean of the College of Cardinals.  So it‘s going to be quite an event for those who are Catholic and non-Catholic to watch this incredible moment take place.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And as traditional as this mass will be, there is something extraordinary about what has been going on in Rome and what we will see this morning.  Outside, in St. Peter‘s Square, a total of 2,500 dignitaries.  There are 70 presidents and heads of state.  There are four kings, five queens, two princes, all of them coming to pay tribute to Pope John Paul II, who, of course, died last Saturday.  And the extraordinary story of this influx of pilgrims.  By Rome police count, four million people have come here to say their good-byes.  Of course, only a small fraction of them will be able to get into St. Peter‘s Square.  The rest of them will be all around the city, 27 screens set up.  And around the world, this is expected to be witnessed by a worldwide television audience of billions.

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a list of who‘s going to be here.  This is so extraordinary.  I‘ve never seen this congregation of world leaders.  President Bush, of course, and the American delegation, former presidents Bush and Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.  But also—so interesting—Hamid Karzai, the new president of Afghanistan, Paul Martin, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Kabila of the Congo, Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhardt Schroeder of Germany, Mohammed Khatami of Iran—and he may be sitting very close to the president, perhaps—Vicente Fox of Mexico, Paul Martin of Canada, President Obesange (ph) of Nigeria—and he‘s interesting because there might be—the next pope might be Nigerian—the Polish hero, Lech Walesa, is going to be here, King Juan Carlos, President Viktor Yushchenko, the heroic new president of independent Ukraine, Kofi Annan, the general secretary of the U.N., Robert Mugabe—I think he‘s on my hallway at the hotel—of Zimbabwe, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  And this is so interesting, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Andrea, tell us about the diplomatic situation here.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  ... awkwardness.  As you‘ve pointed out, there are some people like Mugabe with which the United States and Tony Blair, in particular, have had very difficult relations.  The European Union has a travel ban on Mugabe.  But because the Holy See is a state, a government in itself, ever since the Lateran (ph) agreements in 1929, the Holy See does have visitors who are arriving, who arrived at airports outside of Rome, and therefore were permitted to defy that travel ban.  Others, obviously, Khatami of Iran, who you would not want to seat next to the United States.

Now, because of previous difficulties at a NATO summit in 2002, they came up with a solution.  They came up with the solution of seating people according to the protocol of the names of their countries in French, which is another official diplomatic language, rather than English.  So at that NATO summit in Prague, therefore, they did not have to seat Bush and Blair of the United States and the United Kingdom close to Leonid Kuchma, who was then the autocratic president of Ukraine, also, of course, starting with a “U.”  Here they would again be using French today, and we don‘t know the exact seating for security reasons, but that obviously will mean that the United States is Etats Unite (ph), the name of our country in French, and therefore, there‘ll be no chance that George Bush will be sitting next to our near Khatami of Iran—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the security situation.  We‘re talking to Andrea Mitchell, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News.  Tell us about the very tricky security question here.

MITCHELL:  Well, obviously, there is tremendous security on the ground, an AWACS overhead, other NATO deployments overhead, anti-aircraft batteries surrounding the city.  But one of the good, positive effects of all of this is that it happened within only six days.  And al Qaeda plots are known to take months and, in fact, years in order to be formulated, in order to have sleeper cells put in place.  So it is really less likely that that kind of plot could be initiated in this short amount of time.

There you see the Iranian leadership arriving, Khatami, Mohammed Khatami, the leader of Iran.  There have been other international events, including at the United Nations, where he has passed George Bush and also Bill Clinton before him.  But there is no intention to have any kind of conversation, we are told.  There are occasionally conversations with the Iranians along the margins of diplomatic meetings by lower-ranked officials, but not with the president of the United States.  There‘s no chance, of course, that Fidel Castro, who is giving a major speech tonight, would be having any contact because he decided, primarily for health reasons, not to attend today.  He had a very bad fall and is still recovering from that, a bad fall last year.

Getting back to the security issue, Chris and Chris—al Qaeda has, of course, targeted the pope in the past.  During his visit to Manila in 1995, there was an al Qaeda plot to assassinate the pope.  And then there have been reports that there was another attempt—plot attempted on the pope‘s life in 1999, when he was going to return to the Philippines, but he canceled that trip because of ill health, failing health, at the time.  So there have been al Qaeda attempts in the past.  There‘s certainly a jihad against Pope Paul—John Paul II and against Catholic targets, as well.

There are very high security concerns in Jerusalem, for instance, today, not only because of terror threats from radical Islamist forces, but also from the radical right, the very—very concerned settlers who are upset about the withdrawal from Gaza.  And that‘s, of course, a reason for tremendous security around the three major religions‘ holy sites, the al Aqsa mosque and the Great Temple and the holy Christian sites in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem—Chris.

JANSING:  Andrea Mitchell, thank you very much.  A spokesman for NATO calling this possibly an unprecedented gathering of world leaders.  But what they will see is very traditional Catholic.  In fact, behind the doors of the basilica, there has already been a ceremony attended by only a few people, those closest to Pope John Paul, those in the church hierarchy, away from the eye of the camera.  A white silk veil was placed over the face of Pope John Paul II, and then some coins were laid into his simple cypress coffin.  These were coins that were minted during his papacy, gold and silver, a long-standing tradition in this church from a time when they couldn‘t always identify the bodies of popes.

There was also a blessing of the body with holy water.  And then the camerlengo, Martinez Somalo, offered a prayer and read a legal document.  This is in Latin.  It is basically a short summary of the pope‘s life.  And all of those present will sign it.  It is then sealed in a metal tube, also placed on the coffin, and then the coffin was closed.  It will be processed into St. Peter‘s Square a very short time from now, perhaps 15 minutes from now.  And this will look, then, very much like every other Catholic funeral.  Probably, there will be a white pall (ph), a reminder of the pope‘s baptismal garment, and an open book of the Gospels laid on the coffin.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to Washington.  We have Carl Bernstein joining us, a biographer of the late Pope John Paul II.  Carl, your thoughts about this final—final farewell to the man you wrote about so much.

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, “HIS HOLINESS”:  It‘s a remarkable tribute, and it‘s a remarkable event.  He‘s the only person in the world who we could see this kind of crowd and varied leaders attending.  And it‘s a measure of his accomplishment, the idea that a religious leader, not a secular leader, at the end of the 20th century could be the dominant figure on the world stage is absolutely astonishing, and that these people would attend a funeral for no one else beside him in this great aggregation that we‘re seeing here.

And it raises the question of the kind of pressure that it puts on the conclave and on the Catholic church itself in its next incarnation, as it is, because following this pope, it‘s not just about filling his shoes, it‘s about the Catholic Church is now lit by this incredible attention it has never had before, and its every move is going to be scrutinized in a way that it has not been in centuries, perhaps, because of this man‘s accomplishments and also because of what he didn‘t accomplish.  There is some schism in the church, and people around the world are going to be looking to his successor to see if that schism can be healed.  It‘s going to make things both great opportunities for the church after he‘s gone, and at the same time, it‘s—the only secular equivalent I can think of, and it‘s even dwarfed by this, perhaps, is Harry Truman following the death of Franklin Roosevelt.  Just tremendous accomplishment in an era when we never would have expected a leader of a religion to have held the Soviets at bay, to really have been the crucial figure in the fall of communism, through not firing a shot, but rather through the strength of his words, through his nationality and his geopolitical genius, which came from his spirituality.  It‘s absolutely a remarkable tale.

And also, his is one of the most remarkable lives of our time.  Here is a person who was an actor, who was a mystic, who prayed four, five hours a day, threw himself down on a cold marble floor with his arms extended in the form of a cross, who was—attempted assassination, was saved, he believes, providentially, for some holy purpose, who showed the world that a kind of suffering physically could be dealt with with dignity, with purpose.  And moreover, he is the single leader in the world who managed to bridge regions, to bridge cultures and have a message of universal social justice that took especially those who are marginalized in a way that he called them “the other,” meaning those who were marginalized by poverty, by physical affliction, by geography, by race, and that those were the subjects of his attention in a way that no world leader has had the power before to attend to.

So the pressure on his successor to continue this remarkable tradition, really, that has been started by him—it‘s been the good fortune of the Catholic Church to have had two great leaders in the second half of the 20th century, John XXIII—Pope John XXIII, who presided and called the Second Vatican Council, which brought the church into the modern world at a time when it was not considered relevant, and now John Paul II, who at a time when there would be no expectation of real relevance for the Catholic Church beyond its own faithful, turned out to be the great force in the world of his time.

And now the church has to move on in a very different way than it would have without him because its mission is now greater.  The expectations for the church are now greater.  And the expectations for his successor are not only greater in terms of this man who he will succeed, but also in terms of those things that this pope did not achieve and did not accomplish and were left undone, that have largely to do with divisions in the church itself.  They‘re going to need to be addressed, and perhaps a leader can be found who will be able to attend to this schismatic questions.

But this is one of the great moments of our time that we‘re watching right now.

JANSING:  Carl Bernstein in Washington, thank you very much.

If you hear the bell tolling a few moments ago, you saw the picture on your screen—this is something we almost never hear in Vatican City.  This is a rare tolling of this particular bell, only for extraordinary circumstances.  And clearly, this is one of them.

To the right of where the coffin will be, there will be 1,000 visiting dignitaries.  To the left, 600 Roman Catholic prelates, and perhaps a million more people spilling out onto the streets around Vatican City.

Jim Maceda is among them, down the Via della Conciliazione, the main avenue that runs into St. Peter‘s Square.  Jim, give us an idea of the sense of what‘s happening, of the mood there.

MACEDA:  Hi, Chris.  Well, the mood is really astounding.  You hear the bells tolling.  However, it‘s not just a solemn occasion.  For so many people who are packed on this Via Conciliazione, or Reconciliation Boulevard, it‘s also a day of celebration, a day of joy.  You may hear the applause, even as we speak, behind me.  People are watching some pictures of the pope lying in state that were shot yesterday, the last of four days of public viewing of the pope.  When he pops up on these huge -- 27 of them, by the way—huge screens to allow people to see what‘s going to transpire here, people are breaking out into applause.  It‘s a traditional Italian reaction.  It‘s a sign of respect.

But there‘s not just applause, Chris.  There‘s also cheering and chanting.  We‘re hearing “Pope John Paul” chanted over and over again.  We‘re hearing loud whistling, as well.  Sometimes you have the impression of being—there goes the whistling again.  Sometimes you have the impression of being in a—at a rally and not a funeral.  And I think it indicates the kind of mixed emotion here—sadness, grief, on the one hand, but also joy and celebration on the other.  Back to you.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch now—we just watched the president of the United States and the first lady.  There‘s the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush, introducing himself, and there‘s former president Bill Clinton, all taking their—their places now in St. Peter‘s Square.  It‘s the American delegation.  All three American presidents are attending this service this morning.  There‘s the president, of course, and the first lady in her mantilla, appropriately, a very traditional aspect of her clothing for a traditional Catholic service, to wear a mantilla, a woman covering her head like that.  And of course, the two former president.

They‘re filling—Americans are not used to simply taking our place.  They‘re putting in—they‘re being put in French alphabetical order, as Andrea pointed out, Andrea Mitchell pointed out, because of diplomatic reasons and niceties.

There‘s King Juan Carlos of Spain.  They‘re greeting each other, the president of the United States, the head of state of Spain.  And they‘re all taking their assembled positions here, which—unusual for the United States, we‘re not being singled out as the major player here.  We‘re just one of many nations observing and participating in this historic service.

Let‘s go right now and—I want to introduce a couple of the people who are joining Chris and I, and that‘s Monsignor John Strynkowski, who‘s rector of St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York, and Stephen Weeke, who‘s an NBC analyst, who‘s been living here for many, many years.

I want to start with Monsignor.  Your thoughts and feelings as we go into this mass of the Christian burial.

MSGR. JOHN STRYNKOWSKI, RECTOR, ST. JAMES CATHEDRAL, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, on the one hand, it‘s—it is a sad occasion because we‘ve lost a great man.  But on the other hand, it‘s also a joyful celebration, celebrating the wonderful accomplishments of his life, but at the same time, also the faith of the—of—that we possess that he now has gone to the Risen Lord and shares in risen life.  And so we celebrate accomplishments and new life for him.

JANSING:  And this celebration extending so far, so wide, an outpouring unlike anything anyone has seen.  And what has struck me so much this week is that these are not just Catholics, these are people of all faiths.  I have talked to people who have traveled not hundreds but thousands of miles, who consider themselves even to be agnostic, and yet they said they were drawn to this place.  That was the phrase I heard so many times.

Stephen, you‘ve been here for so many years.  You‘ve watched this pope so closely.  What do you think it is about this man that has drawn not only this unprecedented gathering of world leaders, but people of all faiths from all around the world?

STEPHEN WEEKE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  John Paul had a special charisma that people who met him individually would say made them feel like he—In that moment that I looked at him, he looked in my eyes and I felt like I was the only person in the world, like he was just thinking about me.  And somehow, he managed to transmit this personal, individual connection through television and through mass events of saying mass in front of hundreds of thousands of people and making people feel individually recognized.  He had a universality about him that we‘re seeing here.

And what—what we‘re witnessing is probably the funeral that every Roman emperor probably wished for for himself, you know?  You know, we hear about Caesar and Nero and Augustus building these huge temples for themselves and memorial monuments, and this is this humble man from Poland who actually generated more of a human response on this planet than any other person we can think of.

JANSING:  And he—and one of the more interesting things over the last couple of days is that we saw his last will and testament.  Even though it was 15 pages long, Monsignor, there was virtually no mention of what we consider to be typical in a will.  There was no mention of all of his earthly goods.  In fact, he said he virtually had none, and the few that he did have, day-to-day things that his very close friend and his personal secretary should distribute.  This was a spiritual document.

STRYNKOWSKI:  Absolutely.  It‘s a beautiful testimony of faith, his faith in God—God is the one who will protect him—his faith in the Blessed Mother, seeing her as—in a special way, his mother, someone to whom he dedicated his entire life.  That‘s the quote on his coat of arms, “Totus Tuus (ph),” meaning “I am entirely yours,” speaking to the Blessed Mother, and putting himself, putting the church and putting the world into her into her hands, asking...

JANSING:  And there will be references in this mass, obviously, to the Blessed Mother.

STRYNKOWSKI:  Absolutely.  All funeral rites, all rites of Christian burial include a petition to the Blessed Mother to ask for her intercession in leading us into heaven.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re watching, of course, the scenes as people arrive at St. Peter‘s Square.  The weather here is wonderful.  We hope it holds for the service, for the mass of Christian burial.  It‘s interesting to see all these world leaders sitting in peace.  Boy, this could be a start of something—something very nice here, if they‘d all stay as calm as this for the next couple of hundred years, all those world leaders with such disparate points of view about mankind and our very purpose of our existence, the Islamic leaders and Hamid Karzai, a democratic leader of the new Afghanistan, and of course, Ariel Sharon, the tough former prime minister of—and he is a former prime minister of Israel.  What a tough man he is.  And sitting there with all the Islamic leaders like King Abdullah of Jordan, a moderate leader in the Arab world, surrounded by people of somewhat questionable situation, like Kabila of the Congo and Mugabe of Zimbabwe, people who had a hard time normally getting around the world, who are allowed to come here as a privilege of the diplomatic immunity of the Vatican, abl3e to come here, as Andrea Mitchell pointed out, because of the unique circumstances, who would otherwise be treated somewhat as outlaws.  It‘s an interesting coalition of people, all sitting down here.

And what I find interesting, Andrea Mitchell, is what is it that draws world leaders to want to identify with this man, even if they come from different religions and have different points of view about the reality of human existence?

MITCHELL:  Well, it was his universality, the fact that he was able to reach out and at the same time that he was criticizing world leaders for their temporal policies—as you know, he was very confrontational with both Bill Clinton and George Bush, for different reasons, Clinton on cultural issues like  abortion, Bush on issues like the war, Abu Ghraib prison, as recently as last summer, when in the height of the political campaign, his reelection campaign, George Bush went to the Vatican and presented the Medal of Freedom to the pope, but also took what in papal terms in that context was certainly a tongue-lashing for some of his policies and failure, in the pope‘s view, to be more intense in his diplomacy toward the Middle East.

But at the same time, this pope had a human touch and such a deep spiritual sense, obviously, as the leader of the Roman Catholics, that he could reach out to any of these world leaders and find some common ground with them, including Castro and some of the other leaders whom you‘ve mentioned.

The one big gap, of course, was China, which has had a great deal of growth in the church, but the church is illegal in China, and China is one of the few countries around the world, 174, I think, are represented today, but not the Chinese.  They used as a last-minute excuse that the Taiwanese were represented.  The Vatican is one of the few governments that has relationships with Taiwan, rather than with China itself.  And China took that as a great offense and decided that it would not be represented here—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Andrea.

JANSING:  We are expecting any minute now to see the official beginning of what is known as the rite for the burial of the Roman pontiff.  We will see the simple cypress coffin coming through the doors of the basilica.

Tell us, Monsignor, what you will be looking for today, and what you think others should be looking for?  This mass will be in Latin.  It will be translated.

STRYNKOWSKI:  Yes.  There‘ll be simultaneous translation going on, I think, as a result of the Vatican‘s efforts to try to make the mass available to as many nations as possible.  But at the same time, we will be witnessing very beautiful music, Gregorian chant, polyphony, but also the chants of the Byzantine rite, so that it will be a very solemn mass because of that music.  We‘ll have the homily by Cardinal Ratzinger, who probably will give us some highlights of the pontificate, while at the same time, emphasizing, though, what is our faith in terms of risen life, the new life that the pope now enjoys.


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