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Rome Returning to Normal After Pope's Funeral, as Pilgrims Begin to Leave


People wave Polish, Mexican, French and Spanish flags during funeral mass for Pope John Paul II
Rome is slowly returning to normal. Thousands of pilgrims who came to pay their final respects to the late pope have already left, and many others are preparing to leave the city in the next day or two. The city's mayor praised the extraordinary efforts of workers and citizens over the past week in coping with millions of pilgrims who flooded the city.

At Rome's main railway station, thousands of pilgrims with backpacks and sleeping bags have been getting on trains to return home. Their destinations are many and varied. They came from towns all over Italy and across Europe for Pope John Paul II's funeral.

Special trains ran through the night and into Saturday. A large number of pilgrims slept in tents made available by the civil defense department. Now, they are returning home.

It has been a long week for the Rome authorities. But the city's return to normal was evident in the resumption of traffic, which was halted city-wide during Friday's funeral. The giant TV screens - 27 of them - that had been set up for pilgrims to follow the pope's funeral in different parts of the city have been taken down. Barricades placed by the police have been removed.

A massive clean-up operation is underway, although rain Saturday slowed the work of maintenance workers.

Authorities are breathing a sigh of relief. At a news conference Saturday, Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said everything went smoothly, and there were no emergencies.

He said the city successfully dealt with the most important event of this kind in its history, in terms of the numbers of people who took part. He said it was an unprecedented event, for which there was little time to prepare.

"The city doubled in number," the mayor said. "Rome has a population of 2.6 million. We became double that number."

The mayor said the millions of pilgrims who came to Rome were motivated solely by the desire to be present for Pope John Paul. "It was absolutely marvelous," Mr. Veltroni added, and Rome put on its best show.

Mr. Veltroni said Rome was proud to host, in the best way possible, this "marvel." "We are not talking about [just] any event," he said, "but one that was filled with significance, with meaning, with pain and hope." The people who came here, he added, were moved by faith or conscience.

The mayor said Rome's railway station and a large area on the outskirts of the city, where the pope held his World Youth Day in 2000, would be named after Pope John Paul II.

Mr. Veltroni praised the extraordinary work of the security forces, medical teams and all those involved in the organization and planning of the funeral. He praised the city's residents for embracing the event and, in his words, showing a great sense of responsibility.

As shops reopened Saturday and people went about their daily business, Romans were left with the memory of an incredible outpouring of affection for Pope John Paul II, their minds now turned to who will replace the Polish-born John Paul II.

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