VATICAN CITY—Church and city officials, overwhelmed by an estimated 1 million people waiting for a brief, final look at Pope John Paul II, stopped allowing new pilgrims to join the line late Wednesday night, fearful that viewing wouldn't end in time to prepare for the scheduled 10 a.m. start of Friday's funeral.
The wait to reach St. Peter's Basilica was 15 to 20 hours when police began turning newcomers away, and the line stretched from the basilica, where the pope's body lay in state, down the wide Via della Conciliazione, across the Vittorio Emanuele II bridge and down the far bank of the Tiber River.
Officials estimated that as many as 1.5 million people had already been through the basilica and said they expected the crowd on the streets surrounding the Vatican to grow to as many as 4 million for the largest papal funeral in history.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, joined by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, used a special VIP entrance to enter St. Peter's shortly after they arrived in Rome from Washington. They knelt in a pew in front of the body, bowing their heads in prayer.
The outpouring to see John Paul II brought much of central Rome to a standstill and left the area littered with empty plastic water bottles and sandwich wrappings.
With only about 100,000 people able to cram into St. Peter's Square, officials set up 25 massive screens around the city—including in such places as the Coliseum and the ancient chariot-racing course—so that people who can't get near the service can watch.
Dignitaries, including President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and Prince Charles of Great Britain, will be seated in what officials called "a secure bubble" away from the main crowd in St. Peter's.
Only the Swiss Guard, the official security force of Vatican City, is allowed to carry weapons in the Vatican, but officials were tightening security in anticipation of Friday's funeral.
By Wednesday, only military and security aircraft were allowed over the city. Late Wednesday, the St. Peter's subway station was closed, and at 2 a.m. Friday, Rome will be closed to all private automobile traffic.
Offices were telling employees to stay home, schools have closed, and doctors' offices were calling patients to cancel appointments.
Earlier Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced that the conclave to pick John Paul II's successor will begin April 18.
Valls also said the pope's 15-page "spiritual will" would be released Thursday. He said the pope had written the document throughout his reign, with the first entry in 1979—the year after he ascended to the head of the church.
Vatican officials also released details of Friday's funeral, which will begin at 4 a.m. Eastern time in the United States.
The funeral Mass will be led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of John Paul II's closest advisers. He's expected to wear red and white vestments and recite from the Bible John's account of Jesus asking Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter: "Lord, you know all things, you know I do." Jesus: "Feed my sheep."
He will then lead special prayers on behalf of the people of Rome.
After the funeral Mass, the pope's body will be placed in a cypress casket. The body will then be sprinkled with holy water, the pope's face will be covered by a white cloth, and he will be carried down beneath the papal altar to be entombed in a spot formerly occupied by Pope John XXIII.
The casket will be sealed with wax, then placed in a zinc casket, which will be sealed and set in a different wood casket before being placed in the tomb.
There will be nine days of memorial Masses after the funeral before the conclave begins.
Valls said 122 cardinals have arrived at the Vatican, though he couldn't say how many of those were under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the conclave. At least one of the 117 cardinals eligible to vote has announced he won't attend because of illness.
The cardinals reportedly are considering a decision to prohibit one another from talking to reporters after the funeral, amid concern that the nearly continuous media coverage might influence the outcome of the conclave.
Pope John Paul II, recognizing that new technology would make secrecy difficult, took steps in 1996 to preserve the confidentiality of the conclave, banning telephones and calling for technicians to sweep the Sistine Chapel for bugs. Any cardinal who breaks oaths of secrecy might be excommunicated under the pope's regulations.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): RELIG-POPE
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050406 US Catholics and 20050406 Pope crypt
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