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Pope's Funeral Nears End at St. Peter's Basilica

Master of the liturgical ceremonies archbishop Piero Marini, right, receives the Holy Gospel before placing it on the casket of Pope John Paul II during the funeral in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Friday

Pope John Paul II is being interred beneath St. Peter's Basilica at this hour in a private ceremony that brings the pontiff's funeral to a close.

One of the immense bronze bells of St. Peter's tolled over and over as the simple wood coffin with the pontiff's body was carried to a crypt where many of the Roman Catholic Church's previous 264 popes are buried.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners who took part in the outdoor ceremony in front of St. Peter's Basilica saluted the pope with waves of applause, but there also were many tears. In a display of intense affection for the late pope, the crowd chanted John Paul's name and called for the church to declare him a saint now and set aside the normal process of canonization, which can take decades to complete.

Thousands of dignitaries - monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and leaders of other faiths among them - sat in bright sunlight at the front of the gathering for the funeral Mass. President Bush was at the head of the American group.

Twelve pallbearers carried the pope's simple wooden coffin from St. Peter's Basilica to an open area in front of an outdoor altar. A large red book of scriptures was placed atop the coffin as a procession of cardinals and archbishops, their crimson and purple robes stirred by a stiff breeze, took their places around the altar.

Applause - a traditional Italian sign of respect and admiration - rippled through the throng when the coffin appeared, and throughout the service in tribute to the pope.

Millions of Roman Catholics around the globe joined in simultaneous memorial services in their own countries, and uncountable millions more took part in the Vatican funeral through live broadcasts.

Millions of pilgrims have come to Rome since Saturday, when the former Karol Wojtyla, leader of the world's Roman Catholics since 1978, died at the age of 84.