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'Grant him eternal rest' Dignitaries, commoners pay respects



Published: Sat, April 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The crowd called for the pontiff to be made a saint immediately.

LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY

ROME -- They came to mourn his death and they came to celebrate his life. They cried and they applauded him during the simple but majestic ceremony.

And then, away from the gaze of the millions who came to honor him, the cardinals of his church buried Pope John Paul II in the ancient crypt of St. Peter's alongside the remains of popes who preceded him.

From the capitals of the world, heads of state sat peacefully together. From the villages of Poland, the cities of Italy and countries all over the world, they packed St. Peter's Square and the streets around the Vatican and gazed at the plain cypress wood coffin that held the body of a man from a simple town in Poland.

On top, the pages of an open book of the Gospels flipped over in the wind. Inside lay John Paul's body, reposing and awaiting burial while millions of Catholics in Rome and beyond prayed for his soul and gave thanks for his life.

Long after the 12 white-gloved pallbearers, known as Papal Gentlemen, had carried the coffin into the basilica for a private burial in the crypt, the millions outside continued to clap and wave flags and chant for John Paul's immediate beatification. "Santo Subito" read some signs -- "Saint Immediately" in Italian.

The bell that tolled when the pope died a week ago today tolled once again.

He was buried at 2:20 p.m., the Vatican said, attended by members of his household and prelates.

"Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him," said the Vatican chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, ending the private burial ceremony.

In a few days, the Vatican will announce when members of the public will be able to visit John Paul's tomb, said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Historical moment

The funeral itself was unlike any seen before, bringing the world's power elite together with the masses for 21/2 hours of respectful contemplation.

Thousands had slept peacefully on the chilly streets the previous night, hoping to secure a place in the square. But for the many who couldn't catch a glimpse of the coffin and the ceremony in person, huge screens in the surrounding streets and around the city enabled people to take part in the vast communal ceremony.

In the minutes leading up to the start of the Mass, a remarkable procession of more than 200 world leaders appeared in front of the basilica where they were greeted by American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol. Kings of Christian countries such as Spain sat with Muslim leaders such as President Mohammed Khatami of Iran. President Bush and his wife, Laura, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, came to pay their final respects. French President Jacques Chirac conversed with Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations. The president of Israel, Moshe Katzav, sat a few rows in front of Bashar Assad, president of Syria. The two countries remain officially at war.

In spite of his frequent meetings with world leaders, John Paul II fashioned himself as the pope of the people, holding open-air Masses in front of as many as 4 million people through the years. And so one last time Friday, some of those millions turned out to say goodbye to their pontiff.

The crowd in the square was a hushed sea of flags that billowed in the wind, hundreds of them the red and white of the Polish flag. For such a vast crowd, it was extraordinarily calm.

Mourners around the world

The funeral was beamed live around the world on television channels from South America to the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of thousands gathered to watch on three huge screens in a field in the Polish city of Krakow, where John Paul was serving as cardinal when he was elected pope.

People in Rome and in Poland cried and applauded as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the college of cardinals and the main celebrant of the funeral Mass, gave the homily. A leading candidate for the papacy himself, Cardinal Ratzinger reminded the celebrants of how a young boy from Poland grew up to be pope.

He recalled John Paul's pained appearance Easter Sunday, when he went to the window of the Apostolic Palace for his final blessing urbi et orbi [to the city and the world]. "We can be sure that our beloved pope stands today at the window of the father's house, that he sees us and blesses us."

Cardinal Ratzinger has a reputation of being a hard-nosed ideologue, but his homily was laden with tenderness for the pope he served: "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."

When he was finished, the crowd erupted in long applause -- traditional at funerals in Italy.

Mass of mourners

The mourners were spread out all over Rome, happy just to be together and in the same city. Warnings on the big TV screens in various languages, including English and Polish, cautioned: "Please don't push in order not to be pushed."

Although there was some anxiety and even some jostling for better viewing spots before the Mass, the entire city was becalmed once the service began. People did not push.

Perhaps in acknowledgment of John Paul's particular concern for young people, there were prominent roles for young Catholics in the ceremony. The readings were given by people who appeared to be in their 20s, one Spanish, one British. Six short prayers were offered in French, Swahili, Tagalog, Polish, German and Portuguese by young men and women. And shortly before Cardinal Ratzinger began preparing Communion, he received gifts from young representatives from the churches of several developing nations.

The Swiss guards who are charged with protecting pontiffs stood watch over his coffin nearby. Given the high security risk posed by having many of the world's most powerful people sitting next to each other, helicopters from the Italian security forces hovered in the cloudy skies above Rome.

With the sacrament blessed, about 300 priests fanned out throughout the huge square to try to offer the sacrament to the tends of thousands of worshipers. Cardinal Ratzinger gave the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the actual body of Christ, to a line of people including some of the Polish nuns who looked after the pope during his years in the Vatican.

At 12:37 p.m., the Papal Gentlemen picked up the coffin and began to carry it back inside the basilica.

The crowd applauded perhaps louder than ever before, knowing this would be the last time they would see the coffin.




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