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Faithful Pack Saint Peter's Square for Mass in Honor of Late Pope

  • Roger Wilkison

At least 100,000 people filled Rome's Saint Peter's Square and adjacent streets Sunday to attend a mass that paid tribute to Pope John Paul II, who died Saturday at the age of 84. As many as two million people are expected to stream into the city for the pontiff's funeral later this week.

The faithful who flocked into the square Sunday morning joined those who maintained an overnight vigil after learning of the pope's death. They were young, and old, and middle-aged, too, some holding their children on their shoulders, others waving flags of their countries, prominent among them, the red-and-white colors of John Paul's native Poland.

The late pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, called on the faithful to pray for the soul of the departed pontiff.

"It's true," said the cardinal, "we have been shocked by a painful event. Our father and pastor, John Paul II, has left us. But he has always told us to look to Christ as the only reason for our hope."

The mourners, many with tears streaming down their faces, bent their heads down in prayer, pouring out their affection for the pope, who died after an extended struggle with ill health. The Vatican said Sunday the pope died of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse.

After the Mass, John Paul's body was laid out inside the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, next to Saint Peter's Basilica, for private viewing by church officials and the diplomatic corps. Italy's president, prime minister and Cabinet also attended the ceremony. The Vatican's chamberlain sprinkled holy water on the late pope, dressed in crimson vestments and with a white bishop's miter on his head.

The pope's body will be transferred to Saint Peter's Basilica on Monday for viewing by the faithful.

Also on Monday, the college of cardinals will decide when to hold the pontiff's funeral. Vatican law specifies that it should be held from four to six days after the pope's death.

As many as two-million people, among them, more than 100 world leaders, are expected to attend the funeral, and Italian officials are racing to prepare for such a huge influx into the city. They have ordered extra trains, supplies of fresh water and thousands of beds to be made available to the pilgrims, many of whom will have to camp out in football stadiums and the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held in Roman times.

Cardinals from the church's far-flung outposts are beginning to converge on Rome for the conclave that will choose a successor to John Paul. That gathering could get underway as early as two weeks from now.

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