The funeral of Pope John Paul is under way at the Vatican.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Pope John Paul II during the funerals in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican

As church bells rang, 12 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 on his coffin, which was followed by a procession of cardinals and archbishops, their crimson and purple robes stirred by a stiff breeze.

Applause - a traditional Italian sign of respect and admiration - rippled through the throng packed into St. Peter's Square. The crowd grew still as the solemn high Mass, sung and recited in Latin, began.

Four-thousand dignitaries - kings, queens, president and prime ministers - sit at the front of the huge gathering.

Pope John Paul's body had been lying in state in the Basilica - the world's largest church - since Monday, two days after his death. The line of mourners was halted late Thursday, hours before Friday's funeral rites, which began with a private ceremony inside the basilica for senior clerics and the pope's close friends.

President Bush and former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (the current president's father) are among the American representatives at the Vatican.

The overall gathering - religious and political leaders from throughout the world, plus the huge public outpouring - is believed to be one of the largest human assemblies in modern times.

Millions of Roman Catholics around the globe are taking part in their own funeral Masses at the same time as the service in the Vatican. And uncountable millions more are joining the memorial through live broadcasts in many languages.

After the funeral Mass, John Paul will be interred in a crypt beneath the basilica, the burial place of many previous leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

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.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.