Latest News

Pope shown lying in state as Catholic Church's rituals unfold

VATICAN CITY—History's most-seen pope in life became the most-viewed pope in death Sunday as the Vatican's television network broadcast striking video images of John Paul II's body lying in state during a private ceremony for Italian and church dignitaries in the Apostolic Palace.

Earlier, an estimated 130,000 people gathered on a balmy spring morning in St. Peter's Square as the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, led a requiem Mass that was rich with references to the late pope's life and message.

"Today, while crying about the passing of the pope who has left us, we are opening our hearts to the vision of our eternal destiny," Sodano said.

After the Mass, the pope's body was laid out in colorful, majestic Clementine Hall—where the pope once received visiting heads of state—not far from where he died in his apartment on Saturday evening at 9:37 p.m. local time.

The body of John Paul was dressed in a white bishop's hat and red vestments, his head resting on a golden pillow. His arms were folded and a staff was tucked under his left arm.

Two Swiss guards in blue and yellow Renaissance-era uniforms stood at attention on either side of the body, which was placed in front of a fireplace adorned with the Vatican coat of arms, a depiction of a crucifix next to a burning candle.

Meanwhile, the Vatican released the pope's official death certificate, which said that he died of "septic shock and an irreversible cardio-circulatory collapse." Septic shock occurs when a bacterial infection in the blood leads to low blood pressure and organ failure.

The certificate also acknowledged the 84-year-old pope suffered from Parkinson's disease, something the Vatican had never formally confirmed.

The Vatican has not formally announced the date of John Paul's funeral or the place of his burial. The funeral is expected to be Wednesday or Thursday, and President Bush is expected to be among dozens of world leaders attending.

As soon as two weeks from Monday, the cardinals will begin meeting under Michelangelo's dramatic frescoes in the Sistine Chapel to begin deliberating their selection of a new pope.

Sunday at the Apostolic Palace, church dignitaries and the Italian political leadership, including President Carlo Ciampi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, were the first to pay their respects.

The pope's personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz—who had been with him for some 40 years _was among those seen weeping.

Also on hand were members of the so-called "black" nobility, old families that remained faithful to the Vatican after Italy became a kingdom in 1870 and papal rule ended in Rome. Black refers to the color of priestly garments.

Live video of the ceremony was beamed by satellite across the world, in the latest example of how 21st-century technology is providing immediate and at times intimate glimpses of these once-opaque, centuries-old Roman Catholic rituals. The pope's death was first announced Saturday night in an e-mail to journalists.

Thanks to television, the Internet and jet travel, John Paul's image is believed to have been seen by more people on the planet than any person in history. Now the traditions surrounding a papal death will be disseminated worldwide as never before.

On Monday, the pope will lie in state in St. Peter's Basilica, where members of the public will be allowed to file past. Rome police officials said they anticipated as many as 2 million pilgrims entering the city over the next two weeks, as one pope is laid to rest and another is chosen.

The morning Mass began with a procession by the College of Cardinals down the steps of the basilica as a choir sang. Each cardinal, dressed in a red hat and flowing white robes with a golden cross on the chest, kissed the altar before taking his seat.

The gospel for Sunday's Mass was softly sung, not recited, by a priest with a clear, high voice. It came from the Gospel of St. John and centered on the Christian belief in life after death, describing how Jesus, risen from the dead, appeared to his apostles.

"Our soul is shocked by a painful event: Our father and pastor, John Paul II, has left us," he said. "However ... he has always invited us to look to Christ, the only reason for our hope."

During the "Peace of Christ" prayers, people turned to one another to exchange greetings and handshakes.

Black ribbons of mourning were draped across a rainbow of national flags held aloft in the square, including many from the pope's native Poland.

At one point during the Mass, a huge painting of Jesus seemed to float above the crowd. It was a depiction of a painting from the nearby Santo Spirito in Sasso church. The copy of the painting, called Jesus as the Divine Mercy, was about 14 feet high and was pulled through the crowd on scaffolding by parishioners, as pilgrims reached out to touch it.

Pope John Paul II visited the church to bless the painting in April 1995, parishioners said. Every year since, on Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls a week after Easter, parishioners have brought a copy of the painting to Mass at the Vatican. Last year, parishioners said the pope looked out of his apartment window during a Sunday service and saw them with the painting.

"Last year, we were singing," said Grazia Voce, 45, a secretary. "This year, we come in silence."

In a touching moment after the Mass, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri read the traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which he said had been prepared by the pope himself before he died.

A cascade of applause swept through the crowd as the pope's portrait was shown on giant video screens erected around the square. Some people cried.

As an international spotlight shone on Vatican City, many Romans and visitors went about their normal business. Rome's secular landmarks, such as the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona, were as packed as they would be on any temperate spring day in the heart of tourist season.

Commerce also continued apace, including around St. Peter's Square, where shops selling religious artifacts were doing a booming business, and men walked the streets peddling a glossy booklet with photos of the late pope.

———

(Montemurri reports for the Detroit Free Press, Dilanian for The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

———

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

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

Need to map

Related stories from McClatchy DC

  Comments