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Papal Funeral Begins, Ends With Private Ceremonies

  • Roger Wilkison

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims joined kings, presidents and prime ministers to pay their last respects to Pope John Paul II Friday at a funeral service in Saint Peter's Square. More than a million other mourners gathered before huge television screens scattered throughout the city to take part in their own farewell to the late pope.

The pope's simple cypress coffin lay in front of the altar, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who presided over the funeral mass, recalled the late pontiff as a man who offered his life to God and to his far-flung flock. An interpreter from Vatican Radio translated the cardinal's words into English

"These are the seeds of immortality which he leaves us before we confide him to earth, therefore of hope and great gratitude," he said.

John Paul's body was interred in the papal crypt below Saint Peter's Basilica immediately after the funeral. His cypress coffin was inserted into a zinc casket, which, in turn, was placed into an oak coffin.

Cardinal Ratzinger's homily, or sermon, was several times interrupted by applause, a sign of respect in Italy. But toward the end of the funeral mass, the more than 100,000 pilgrims who gathered in the square and in the boulevard leading up to it, began loudly chanting the word "santo", meaning that they want John Paul to be made a saint of the church soon.

The process of sainthood usually takes a minimum of five years, but a new pope could wave the time limit as John Paul did with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The pageantry in the square contrasted with the spontaneity of the pilgrims, many of whom came from the pope's native Poland and arrived overnight in Rome to attend the funeral or to get as close as possible to the ceremony. Many of the pilgrims who were allowed to enter the square early Friday morning had slept outdoors in the vicinity of Saint Peter's.

A Rome police spokesman said more than a million Poles had traveled to Rome and that one out of every three persons in the city on Friday was a compatriot of John Paul. Most are returning to Poland later in the day.

John Paul's funeral brought together the largest crowd ever assembled in Rome in modern history. Vatican officials estimate that as many as three million people filed past the pope's body in Saint Peter's Basilica in the three days that it was open for public viewing.

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