Millions bid pope farewell

Pope John Paul II laid to rest in sweeping, elaborate ritual

Hundreds of dignitaries pay respects

In chants, the faithful urge sainthood for the pontiff

April 09, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

VATICAN CITY - Presidents and the poor, royalty and the ruled gathered yesterday in St. Peter's Square and the great piazzas of Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, whose death attracted one of the largest religious gatherings in modern times for a tearful - and at times joyful - goodbye.

As winds blew across the vast cobblestone square, the giant bell of the basilica tolled slowly, a mournful sound suitable for announcing funerals, though no mourners needed to be called.

Already, more than 300,000 people were gathered on the square. Hundreds of thousands more watched on screens on Via della Conciliazone, the grand boulevard that links the Vatican with Rome, and on screens set up across the city.

"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals, during his homily for Pope John Paul. "Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude."

At 10 a.m., cardinals emerged from the great front door of St. Peter's Basilica, beneath a giant image of the resurrection, white miters atop their heads, their red vestments - the color of mourning for the pope - billowing in the breeze.

The Vatican's Sistine Choir sang the Gregorian chant, "Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord."

Twelve pallbearers in gray suits with tails, wearing white bow ties, white shirts and white gloves, emerged two abreast, carrying Pope John Paul between them on their shoulders, the pontiff now in a knotted cypress casket marked with a simple cross and the letter M, for his beloved Virgin Mary.

At the sight of the pontiff's coffin, the crowds - in St. Peter's Square and throughout Rome - applauded for their pope.

Tears flowed as people seemed to realize this indeed was their final goodbye, but this would be neither the valley nor the peak of the emotional surges in the funeral, which lasted slightly more than two-and-a-half hours.

As the pope was carried, the crowd chanted, "Santo! Santo!" urging sainthood for their pontiff, who led 1 billion Roman Catholics for more than 26 years.

"Giovanni Paulo! Giovanni Paulo!" they then chanted in singsong. They waved flags, applauded more, crossed themselves, bowed.

Finally, they went quiet, though for many the tears continued when Ratzinger spoke.

Many of the pilgrims on the square had been making their way to Rome since March 31, the Thursday when Pope John Paul fell seriously ill, and they swelled the city with people from all walks of life.

The dignitaries, too, were a varied lot, coming from more than a dozen faiths: Metropolitan Kirill, from the Russian Orthodox Church; Oded Viner, the chief Rabbinate director-general in Israel; the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury.

They came from scores of countries: President Bush and his two predecessors from the United States, Prime Minister Tony Blair from Britain, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

More than from anywhere else, people came from the pope's beloved Poland.

As many as 300 flags from countries around the world flapped from the top of poles held aloft by the mourners who crammed into St. Peter's Square yesterday, and at least 250 of them were the red and white flag of Poland, all adorned with black streamers of mourning, many with the name of their city attached: Warsaw, Bialystok, Poznan, Krakow.

"Polska! Polska! Polska!" those holding the flags chanted as they gathered on the square.

"We want him to know we are here to lay him to rest," said Szymon Ruman, a 22-year-old from Warsaw who arrived at 3 a.m. yesterday, seven hours before the funeral. "The pope, as we know, was Poland's but we gave him to the world."

After the pope's coffin was taken from the basilica to his adorers, the pallbearers bent to the ground and lowered him onto a large, ornate rug in front of the altar on a middle landing of the marble steps leading to the basilica.

A red Book of Gospels was placed atop his casket. Its pages were turned by the wind.

To the pope's right were cardinals, archbishops, parish priests and the Canonici of St. Peter's. To his left were the official delegations of Rome, Italy and Poland, which included President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his predecessor, Lech Walesa, who in concert with the pontiff shattered the oppression of the Polish government.

Behind them sat the official delegations of more than 130 countries. President Bush sat on the aisle in the second row, next to his wife, Laura, who sat next to French President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette.

Mournful pageantry

And to their sides were men and women dressed in reds, purples, yellows, blacks, golds and greens, an expanded rainbow of mournful pageantry - vestments, zucchettos, turbans, mantillas - worn by leaders from the broad collection of religions Pope John Paul had touched during his reign.

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