VATICAN CITY—Before an immense crowd of the powerful and the humble, amid cheers, laughter, tears and shouts of "saint," the Roman Catholic Church said a final goodbye to Pope John Paul II on Friday in a majestic two-and-a-half-hour funeral Mass that was broadcast to nearly every corner of the world.
The ceremony, a rich pageant of prayer and song in a variety of languages, was seen in churches, homes and open-air gathering places throughout Europe and the Americas, as well as Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In Italy, even MTV carried it without interruption.
It was probably one of the most-witnessed religious gatherings of modern times.
An estimated 350,000 stood in and around St. Peter's Square, but the virtual community of celebrants was much, much larger. Another 650,000 Romans and pilgrims were believed to have watched on giant television screens near churches, the Colosseum and elsewhere.
In Krakow, Poland, where Karol Wojtyla had been archbishop, 800,000 gathered to watch the funeral on television in a field where he'd preached in 2002. In Paris, mourners packed Notre Dame cathedral. Thousands gathered before a screen in Calcutta; thousands more in Manila. Hundreds even came out in Hanoi, the capital of communist Vietnam, which doesn't have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Cuban state television broadcast the service live.
"For all of us, he remains unforgettable," they heard the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals, say in Italian during the homily, which was interrupted frequently by applause from the sea of people spilling out of St. Peter's Square.
Ratzinger asked the crowd to recall "that last Easter Sunday of his life, when the Holy Father, in extreme suffering, appeared once again at the window of the Apostolic Palace. ... And I think we can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of his father's house, and he sees us and he blesses us."
The scene was a colorful tableau. Ratzinger and the other cardinals—the Princes of the Church, one of them probably the next pope—wore flowing red robes and white miters as they faced the congregation from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.
Around them were lesser prelates in lavish purple vests.
Seated at the very front of the congregation were dozens of dark-suited world leaders, delegations from some 92 countries. President Bush was in the proximity of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Robert Mugabe, the oft-criticized president of the African nation of Zimbabwe.
It was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever, yet they were simply part of the backdrop. On his way back to Washington, Bush said, "This will be one of the highlights of my presidency, being at this great ceremony."
The simple cypress coffin that held the pope's body rested in the sunlight.
Earlier, in a private ceremony in the basilica, Ratzinger and the pope's longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, had drawn a white silk cloth over the pope's face after his body was placed in the coffin. Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the camerlengo, or Vatican chamberlain, blessed the body with holy water.
A small purse filled with coins struck by the Vatican during Pope John Paul's reign was placed at the late pope's feet, and the coffin was sealed in the presence of witnesses.
When the funeral began at 10 a.m. Rome time, the coffin, engraved only with a cross and an M for "Mary," was carried out of the basilica and set on an ornate carpet for all to see. A large Bible was placed atop the coffin, its pages blowing in the wind.
Ratzinger, 77, a controversial doctrinal conservative who's been mentioned as a possible next pope, led the service. He recalled the late pope's roots in Poland under the Nazi occupation, and his global outreach as history's most traveled pope.
"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality. Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," Ratzinger said.
Lay people offered short prayers in six languages—French, Swahili, Filipino, Polish, German and Portuguese—after Ratzinger's homily.
Some 320 priests were dispatched into the crowd to allow as many people as possible to take communion.
Although it was a religious service, the crowd at times broke into sustained applause and chants of the pope's name or simply "Saint."
Many waved national flags—from Nigeria, Slovakia, Croatia, Samoa and Venezuela, among others. Some waved banners that said "Santo Subito," urging the church to make Pope John Paul II a saint as quickly as possible.
Many of the people who packed the square for the funeral had spent the night, stealing sleep while leaning up against cold stone buildings.
That was the case for Kelly Leahy, 41, a youth minister at St. Peter's Parish in St. Paul, Minn., who came with his sister, Colleen Gray, 38.
They arrived in Rome on Thursday afternoon and got in line immediately to see the pope's body, which they were able to do in a relatively short three and a half hours.
"We're surviving out of what we could put into our backpacks: trail mix, granola bars and crackers," Leahy said, as they went off to take their places for the funeral.
John Jelinek, 43, of Lubbock, Texas, said he flew into Rome on Thursday with his friend Alfred Martinez, 43.
"We've never done anything like this before," Jelinek said. "He was just such an incredible person."
The usually chaotic streets of the Eternal City were silent during the funeral, empty of most vehicular traffic. People walked to one of 25 designated viewing spots, many of them Poles who'd arrived after a grueling trip.
Agnes Szewczyk, 19, and her father, Boguslaw, 48, drove from Krakow, then stood for 20 hours in line to see the pope's body.
"He confirmed me, when I was 14, back when he was our bishop," Boguslaw Szewczyk said. "He brought the church to life for me, helped me to understand it. I spent years following, to listen to him. I needed to come to him, this last time."
When the two-hour-and-40-minute funeral Mass was over, a dozen pallbearers wearing white gloves, white ties and tails hoisted the coffin and tilted it one last time to the crowd, which cheered and applauded.
They took the late pope's body into the church, and the bells of Rome's churches began to toll.
Inside the basilica, in a scene depicted in Vatican photos, the cypress coffin was placed in a second casket of zinc, which was put into a third layer of walnut. It was carried deep under the basilica, the resting place of popes through the centuries, including, many Catholics believe, the first pope, the Apostle Peter.
Pope John Paul requested in his last will and testament to be buried "in the bare earth." His tomb was covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death. Eventually, the tomb will be open to visitors, as other papal tombs are.
Several American cardinals met with reporters after the service, the last time, they said, that they'd do so before they go into seclusion for the April 18 conclave to elect the new pope.
Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida hinted that a pinch of Polish soil was tucked into the pope's casket to bring him nearer to his beloved native land.
As the pope's body was taken into the church, a procession of cardinals followed, both Maida and Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick recalled. It is tradition that cardinals remove their head coverings in the pope's presence.
"We all took our hats off," McCarrick said, choking up a bit. "Nobody said to do it, we just did it."
He called the outpouring of affection for the late pope "the last obvious gift of John Paul to the history of the church."
Christine Wofford, 52, of Canton Township, Mich., cried as she stood in St. Peter's Square, recounting her most touching memory of the Mass.
"I liked how the crowd waved goodbye to him as they carried the casket up the steps for the last time," she said.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): POPE
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): POPE
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