Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops have begun paying their final respects to Pope John Paul at a lying-in-state ceremony that has just begun at the Vatican palace.

Pictures of the senior clerics massed in the pope's private chapel have been televised around the world Sunday.

Members of the public will be allowed to pay their respects to John Paul later this week after the 84-year-old pontiff's body is moved to St. Peter's Basilica, which is built over the grave of the first pope, St. Peter.

An enormous crowd gathered in the square outside the huge church Sunday for the first of many memorial Masses honoring the former Karol Wojtyla, the Polish priest who led the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics since 1978.

An altar was placed on the steps of the basilica for the solemn high Mass. Dozens of cardinals in white and gold vestments assisted the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who led the Latin service.

Tens of thousands of people filled the vast square and colonnade in front of the church, and the crowd overflowed into surrounding streets.

Many of the worshippers had spent the night on the cobblestones of St. Peter's Square after hearing the announcement of John Paul's death shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday.

The former Karol Wojtyla was the most traveled pope in history and the third longest-serving leader in the 2,000-year history of the church. He has been widely praised for his spiritual and moral leadership, and for his role in encouraging the peaceful downfall of communist rule in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

The pope also won acclaim for his efforts to repair the Catholic church's relations with Jews, Muslims and other faiths, and for his ecumenical approach to Christian unity.

Some information for this report provided by AFP.