Pilgrims flooding Rome to bid farewell to pontiff

More than 1 million file past body at St. Peter's

cardinals plan funeral

A World In Mourning

The Death Of Pope John Paul Ii

April 06, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

VATICAN CITY - Cardinals met here privately yesterday to prepare for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and their deliberations to choose his successor, while more than a million people made public displays of their adulation for the pontiff, crowding the city in what is shaping up to be the largest pilgrimage to the Vatican in history.

Rome and the Vatican have been hit with a wave of pilgrims, with tens of thousands joining mourning Romans yesterday for a procession past the body of Pope John Paul. Already, more than 1 million people have viewed his body.

The long lines - some people have waited 10 hours before entering St. Peter's Basilica to view the pontiff - have snaked nonstop since midday Monday. More than 40 visitors have been treated after fainting.

Rome and the Vatican have long prepared for the pope's death, which came on Saturday, but they have conceded surprise at the huge influx.

Polish authorities said yesterday that up to 2 million Poles alone could come here, and Italian authorities doubled their estimate of expected visitors to 4 million - all arriving in the space of several days.

"This is different from other events, because we don't know exactly the number of pilgrims," said Guido Bertolaso, director of Italy's Department of Emergency Relief. "We have had 48 hours to do what normally would be planned over six to 10 months."

Tent cities, organized by Rome's government, have been established in fields, stadiums and the park downtown that was once the Circus Maximus, the ancient city's chariot racing track.

Emergency medical tents were set up all over the city, including at the Termini train station, where scores of police stood guard and where fire trucks, pulled from the most congested areas, were at the ready.

Visitors and security

The sheer number of pilgrims has alarmed officials. In addition to the everyday people Pope John Paul so cherished and so touched, dignitaries from more than 200 countries, including President Bush and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, are expected for Friday's 10 a.m. funeral. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be part of the U.S. delegation. From Maryland, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski will attend the services.

More than 14,000 police and other security personnel have been deployed around Rome and within the walls of the Vatican City, and the army was assisting with medical care and distributing water and blankets to visitors.

Officials said the only similar influx of visitors in memory was during the Roman Catholic Church's jubilee celebration, in 2000, which attracted about 2 million people.

Most of the visitors are expected to depart after the funeral but before a new pope is selected.

Vatican rituals

The cardinals met again yesterday but have not set a date for when the 117 eligible to vote for a new pontiff will meet. By church law they must meet within 15 to 20 days after a pope's death.

Yesterday, 88 of the 183 living cardinals met in the Apostolic Palace, according to papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who said most of the rest are en route. Those in attendance had not yet been read the pope's will, he said.

The Vatican released more information on the pope's burial and a change in ancient ritual in announcing his replacement.

Navarro-Valls confirmed that Pope John Paul would be buried not in a crypt but in the ground. The burial site will be beneath the area where the tomb of Pope John XXIII once stood in the sacred subterranean Vatican grottoes. Pope John's body was moved into the basilica in 2000 to accommodate the crowds of visitors after his beatification.

Vatican officials also announced that when the cardinals reach a decision on a new pope, the traditional white smoke will be accompanied by the ringing of bells, a move to avoid the confusion experienced when a grayish smoke puffed from the Sistine Chapel during deliberations in the past.

Navarro-Valls said the pope was "prepared" for viewing but had not been embalmed. He did not elaborate. Officials said Pope John Paul would be buried with a small bag of commemorative medals and a lead tube containing a brief account of his life.

In the first full day of viewing, more than 600,000 people were expected to pass by the pope's body, in the nave of St. Peter's Basilica. More than 400,000 paid respects Monday. Vatican officials had said they would close the basilica for three hours each morning for cleaning, but the size of the crowd led them to keep the doors open for all but one hour Monday.

Long lines and prayers

The throng that began gathering Thursday showed no sign of abating yesterday. Italian transportation officials said the number of people who have been using their Web site to book trains to Rome has increased from an average of 15,000 an hour before the pope's death to more than 60,000 since.

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