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Thousands watch pope's funeral throughout Rome

ROME—For many people, the huge crowds that had jammed St. Peter's Square all week were simply too intimidating. So on Friday, they gathered at other spots in Rome to witness Pope John Paul II's funeral on huge television screens.

At St. John Lateran Basilica, where John Paul II was the bishop, 10,000 people packed the cobblestone square. The crowd at one university was reported to be 50,000. At the Circus Maximus, the site of the ancient Roman chariot races and where Christians were once fed to lions, 20,000 squeezed onto the large racing oval and the grassy hills. A couple of thousand gathered around a large screen at the Colosseum.

Magda Biyszcuk, 21, spent the night sleeping under the olive trees amid the ancient ruins between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. She said many others slept nearby. Volunteers passed out bottled water.

"I know I am not there, that I came a long way to watch on television and not even be able to see St. Peter's," she said, "but it is important to be here. It is important to say goodbye."

At the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the crowd was reverential, following the Mass closely, standing and sitting at the appropriate times and joining in for "amens."

Priests gave communion. The air was chilly, so the people wrapped their coats and sweaters tightly around them. The crowd is a varied lot: a girl with bright red hair and a headful of piercings, a nun in a blue habit holding a tissue to her eyes, a woman in black crying uncontrollably as those nearby try to comfort her.

"There are so many reasons to be here," said Agatha Olinska, 17, who came from Krakow on Tuesday. "I know it's not exactly where he is being buried, that being there was impossible ... (but) it feels important to be this close."

Near the front of the crowd at St. Peter's Square, a lone American flag flew. Courtney Brown, 19, of Apple Valley, Minn., was the flag-bearer. A student at St. John University in Queens, N.Y., she's studying in Rome this semester and won her spot by befriending some American Franciscan nuns during the all-night wait. When security guards waved the nuns through, she went with them. "I wanted to be part of history in the making, and he deserved for me to come," said Brown, who described herself as a non-denominational Christian.

After the ceremony, St. Peter's Square resembled a picnic grounds, as many travelers from Poland broke out sandwiches and laid down blankets for lunch. Polish scouts climbed atop a rim of a fountain and sang about how St. Peter left his fisherman's boat to do the work of God.

On the other side of the square, about 40 Poles made concentric circles and were singing and clapping to a different song.

By late afternoon, though, the crowds were gone. Not even the candles left by pilgrims on bridges over the Tiber River were left, as street cleaners made quick dispatch of the day's refuse.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): POPE

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