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Mourners File Past Pope's Body Amid Security Concerns

Thousands of people cram the roads leading towards St. Peter's square in an attempt to pay respects to late Pope John Paul II
Huge numbers of mourners continue to file past the body of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Basilica. Italian authorities are bracing for up to two million people, including more than 100 world leaders, who are expected to attend Friday's funeral.

They have come in what one policeman described as staggering numbers to get a final glimpse of John Paul's body. By late Tuesday, Italy's official RAI television network estimated that more than 500,000 people have viewed the pope's body, which is lying in state at Saint Peter's.

After the pope's body went on display for the Roman Catholic faithful on Monday, many people waited for up to six hours to enter the basilica. Some stayed in the square throughout the chilly night and into the morning.

The mourners have been quiet and serene, and they have been filing through the metal barriers erected by Italian police for crowd control with what one policeman called laudable discipline.

Annetta Boguslawski, from Canada, says waiting does not bother her.

"We have been here for, I would say, a little bit over two hours, and it feels like it has been a few minutes," said Ms. Boguslawski.

A nun from Argentina, Sister Paulina, agrees.

"Even though everybody has to wait for hours, nobody minds," she added.

The pedestals of the lampposts in Saint Peter's Square have been turned into impromptu shrines to the late pope, with the faithful placing flowers, candles and handwritten letters saying good-bye to John Paul.

Inside the basilica, the atmosphere is reverent, but relaxed, with mourners standing shoulder to shoulder as they quickly file past the pope's body.

But Reverend John Martunek, an American priest living in Rome, says the solemnity of the occasion reminds him of the Roman Catholic Church's two-thousand-year-old history.

"So you have this sense as you enter the basilica in silence and prayer - you are reminded of the bigger view, that the church is an institution that has perdured through history,” said Mr. Martunek. “And even though you get only a couple of seconds to see the body of this last pope, you're reminded that there is a bigger picture going on. And so that is why the church has these few days of silence to give us a chance to reflect."

Meanwhile, the cardinals of the church met for a second day in a row to steer the Vatican through the interregnum. But they did not decide when to begin the conclave that is tasked with electing John Paul's successor. Under Vatican law, that crucial meeting has to begin between April 17-22.

Italian and local authorities have other problems on their minds: how to protect the scores of kings, presidents and prime ministers who will be descending on the city to pay their last respects to the late pope at his funeral on Friday. And, what to do about the hundreds of thousands of extra pilgrims who have still not arrived in the city and have almost no chance of finding accommodation.

The authorities have erected tents in outdoor areas, laid on supplies of fresh water, and set up cots in convention centers, first come, first served. And they have assigned 10,000 police, including sharpshooters, to make sure nothing will happen to disturb the peace while all those visitors are here.