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Pope John Paul II Exhumed Ahead of Beatification Mass

Archbishop of Kraków, and former John Paul II's secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz (r) kisses the coffin of late Pope John Paul II ahead of the beatification ceremony, April 29, 2011

The late Pope John Paul's wooden coffin was exhumed from its resting place in a crypt under Saint Peter's Basilica Friday, ahead of a beatification ceremony that will put him one step from sainthood.

Church officials including Kraków Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the former secretary to the late pope, prayed and held a brief ceremony in front of the coffin. It was then carried a short distance to the tomb of Saint Peter.

Following Sunday's beatification Mass in the basilica, thousands of pilgrims are expected to file past the wooden coffin to pay their respects. Afterwards the coffin will be moved to a new crypt in the basilica, near the Michelangelo statue of the Pieta.

The marble slab that covered his first burial place will be sent to Poland, where the late Pope was born.

Among the thousands expected to attend the ceremony is controversial President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean leader has been banned from travel to the European Union, but the Vatican is a sovereign state and not part of the political bloc.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.