Applause, chanting complements farewell Mass for Pope
08/04/2005 - 12:08:47
Presidents, prime ministers and kings joined pilgrims and prelates in St Peterâ€™s Square today to bid farewell to Pope John Paul at a funeral service that drew millions to Rome for one of the largest religious gatherings in the West of modern times.
Applause rang out in the wind-whipped square as John Paulâ€™s simple wooden coffin adorned with a cross and the M for Mary was brought out from the basilica and placed on the ground in front of the altar. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin.
A choir sang the Gregorian chant Grant him Eternal rest O Lord, and the service got underway.
Cardinals wearing white mitres walked onto the square, the wind rippling their red vestments and the pages of the Gospel.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, referred to him as our â€œlate beloved Popeâ€? in a homily that traced his life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the last days of his life as the head of the worldâ€™s one billion Catholics.
Interrupted by applause at least 10 times, the usually unflappable German-born Ratzinger choked with emotion as he recalled one of John Paulâ€™s last public appearances â€“ when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter Sunday.
He was interrupted again toward the end of the Mass by several minutes of cheers and shouts of Saint John Paul, from the crowd, seeking immediate sainthood for the late Pope.
â€œWe can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the fatherâ€™s house, that he sees us and blesses us,â€? he said to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.
â€œToday we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality â€“ our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude,â€? said Ratzinger in heavily-accented Italian.
He said John Paul was a â€œpriest to the lastâ€? and said he had offered his life for God and his flock â€œespecially amid the sufferings of his final monthsâ€?.
Groggy pilgrims who had camped out on the cobblestones awoke in their sleeping bags to hordes of the faithful stepping over them as they tried to secure a good spot to view the Mass. The square and the boulevard leading to it were a sea of red and white flags waved by pilgrims from John Paul's beloved Poland, many in traditional dress shouting â€œPolska! Polska!â€?
â€œWe just wanted to say goodbye to our father for the last time,â€? said Joanna Zmijewsla, 24, who travelled for 30 hours with her brother Szymon from a town near Kielce, Poland, and arrived at St. Peterâ€™s at 1am today.
Before the Mass began, American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted black-clad dignitaries and religious leaders as they emerged from St Peterâ€™s onto the steps. Many of the officials shook Harveyâ€™s hand and offered condolences before mingling and taking their appointed seats.
Turbans, fezzes, yarmulkes and black lace veils, or mantillas, joined the zucchettos or skull caps of Catholic prelates on the steps of St Peterâ€™s in an extraordinary mix of religious and government leaders from around the world.
â€œIâ€™m here because Iâ€™m a believer but also to live a moment in history,â€? said Stephan Aubert, wearing a French flag draped over his shoulders.
Bells tolled as the the last of the leaders took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the funeral, the US delegation arrived, headed by President George Bush and including his father, former President George Bush, and former President Bill Clinton.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, sat next to French President Jacques Chirac and his wife.
Rome itself was at a standstill. A ban on vehicle traffic took effect in the city centre. Air space was closed and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert. Warships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.
Italian authorities took extraordinary precautions to protect the royalty and heads of state or government attending the funeral. Dignitaries from more than 80 countries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders, also were attending.
The Popeâ€™s death on Saturday has evinced a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world and brought an estimated four million people to Rome to see the funeral from up close.
At least 300,000 people filled the square and Via della Conciliazione straight to the Tiber River, waving flags from the US, Croatia, Lebanon and elsewhere, many of them adorned with black ribbons of mourning. Banners read Sainthood Immediately.
Several million more watched on giant video screens set up across Rome in piazzas and at the enormous Circus Maximus, where a group of youngsters wearing t-shirts that read The Boys of Pope John Paul The Great sold a commemorative booklet about the Pontiff.
The funeral was preceded by an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of the Popeâ€™s life in his coffin.
John Paulâ€™s long-time private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, placed a white silk veil over the Popeâ€™s face before the coffin was closed.
Dziwisz was seen weeping on several occasions during the service.
After a series of hymns, readings and the homily, Ratzinger called all to prayer.
â€œDear brothers and sisters let us entrust to the most gentle mercy of God, the soul of our Pope John Paul II. â€¦ May the Blessed Virgin Mary â€¦ intercede with God so that he might show the face of his blessed Son to our pope, and console the church with the light of the Resurrection.â€?
The Mass ended with all standing and together singing: â€?May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem.â€?
After that, the body will be carried deep under St. Peterâ€™s Basilica, where it was to join the remains of popes from centuries past near the traditional tomb of the apostle Peter, the first Pope.
On the eve of the funeral, the Vatican released John Paulâ€™s last will and testament, written in Polish over 22 years beginning five months after his election in October 1978.
In it, John Paul said he wanted to be buried â€œin the bare Earthâ€? and have prayers and Masses celebrated after his death.
He instructed his private secretary to burn his personal notes. He also suggested he considered resigning in 2000, when his infirmities were already apparent. Revising his will just three days before a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, John Paul prayed that God would â€œhelp me to recognise up to what point I must continue this service.â€?
Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by children with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up at the Circus Maximus and elsewhere around the city to take the spillover from hotels. Hawkers jacked up prices of everything from bottled water to papal trinkets.