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Poles Bid Farewell to Pope at Giant Outdoor Mass

Warsaw mass for Pope John Paul II
At least 150,000 people have attended an open-air Mass in Warsaw to say goodbye to Pope John Paul II, who is considered a national hero by his fellow Poles.

It was a huge gathering of the faithful who came from all corners of Poland to pay their respects to the pontiff they loved.

The Mass was held in Pilsudski Square, where in 1979, on his first visit to Poland since assuming the papacy, John Paul urged his countrymen to stand up to the then-ruling Communists with the words: "Do not be afraid."

Tuesday's service was presided over by the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp. In opening the Mass, Cardinal Glemp recalled the pope's message.

GLEMP: "It was in this square on June 2, 1979 that everything started with the memorable words of John Paul II, 'May the spirit come and renew the face of this land.'"

He said John Paul now calls on Poland to unite again, pray for him and thank God for the late pontiff's inspiration and teachings.

The huge crowd was somber, reflective and prayerful. One of the pope's mourners told VOA she feels a mixture of sadness and joy.

MOURNER: "We are Catholic and we have to remember that he's not dead. And we are crying because of us. We lost a great, great man, but he is with God. He's very happy now."

Many people in the crowd carried the red and white Polish flag, or the yellow and white Vatican banner marked with black crepe as a sign of mourning. Others carried posters and photos of John Paul.

Poland is holding a period of national mourning through Friday, when the pope's funeral will be held at the Vatican.

Tens of thousands of Poles are making their way to Rome. Among them is a delegation from the pope's hometown of Wadowice, carrying bags of dirt they want buried with the pope at Saint Peter's Basilica, a local custom for Poles who are not buried in the native land.