Pope Laid to Rest As World Bids Farewell
VATICAN CITY - With presidents and kings looking on, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square sang, applauded and chanted for the church to declare John Paul II a saint as the pope was laid to rest Friday in an unprecedented gathering of the mighty and the meek.
John Paul, who spread his message of peace to all corners of the planet, was buried among his predecessors back to the apostle Peter while tens of millions followed the funeral rites in their homes, in overflowing churches and on giant television screens set up in fields, sports stadiums and town squares.
In St. Peter's Square, at the center of it all, the book of the Gospels lay on a simple cypress coffin, adorned with a cross and an "M" for the Virgin Mary. A brisk wind lifted the book's pages and rippled the red vestments of cardinals, along with the turbans, fezzes and yarmulkes worn by leaders of other faiths touched by the global pope.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a confidant of the pope and a possible successor, delivered a homily that traced John Paul's path from a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.
"Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," Ratzinger said. Usually unflappable, the German-born cardinal choked with emotion. "Santo! Santo!" the crowd responded, waving banners reading "Santo Subito" — "Immediate Sainthood."
"I'm here not only to pray for him, but also to pray to him, because I believe he's a saint," said Therese Ivers, 24, of Ventura, Calif., holding high an American flag in the middle of the crowd on the broad Via della Conciliazione, which stretches from St. Peter's Square to the Tiber River.
The dignitaries from 138 countries reflected the extraordinary mix of faiths and cultures that John Paul courted during his 26-year papacy: Orthodox bishops in long black robes, Jews in yarmulkes, Arabs in checkered head scarves, Central Asians in lambskin caps and Western political leaders in dark suits.
In a gesture the pope would certainly have applauded, Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he shook hands and chatted briefly with the leaders of his country's archenemies, Syria and Iran.
Bells tolled as the delegations took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. President Bush, accompanied by his predecessors Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, was the first American president to attend a papal funeral.
The 2 1/2-hour Mass began with the Vatican's Sistine Choir singing the Gregorian chant, "Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord."
Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, said John Paul was a "priest to the last" who offered his life for God and his flock, "especially amid the sufferings of his final months." He was interrupted by applause at least 10 times.
The Mass ended with cardinals, dignitaries and pilgrims standing and singing: "May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem."
Twelve white-gloved pallbearers carried the coffin back into St. Peter's Basilica, where it was nested inside a second casket of zinc and a third of walnut.
In a spontaneous gesture of respect, cardinals standing along the aisles removed their "zucchettos," or skull caps as the coffin went by, according to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. "It was the last tribute to the Holy Father," he said.
In a grotto beneath the basilica, the casket was lowered into the ground in a plot inside a small chapel, between the tombs of two women: Queen Christina of Sweden and Queen Carlotta of Cyprus, said a senior Vatican official who attended the ceremony.
"Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him," said Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who performed the private service.
The Vatican grottoes — cramped, narrow passageways below the existing basilica — hold the remains of popes of centuries past, including the tomb traditionally believed to hold those of the apostle Peter, the first pope. Royals and the Roman Emperor Otto II are also buried there.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican would announce in a few days when the grottoes would be reopened to the public. Keeping them closed was a way of clearing the city of the throngs of pilgrims.
A drizzle began to fall Friday afternoon as exhausted travelers with overstuffed backpacks trudged toward bus and train stations. Poles whose 24-hour trips to Rome had ended only hours earlier got back in their cars for the long drive home.
During the ceremony, at least 300,000 people who camped out overnight on chilly streets filled St. Peter's Square and spilled out onto the Via della Conciliazione. Millions more watched on giant video screens set up across Rome, from university campuses to the Circus Maximus, where ancient Romans held chariot races centuries before Christianity was born.
Funerals in the last century for Mohandas Gandhi of India, Mao Zedong of China and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran drew millions, too, but they lacked the presence of leaders from so many nations.
The Israeli president said his handshake with Syrian President Bashar Assad came at the point in the service when members of the congregation "exchange the peace." Britain's Prince Charles drew criticism from two European Union legislators for shaking hands at that same moment with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, whose government is reviled internationally.
Despite the crowd's size Friday, there were few disturbances, and strangers shared food, water and umbrellas for shade in an outpouring of kindness that honored John Paul's message. When pilgrims broke out into song, others joined the hymns in different languages.
"We are the generation of John Paul II," said Mara Poole, a 27-year-old housewife from St. Paul, Minn., tears streaming down her face.
Hundreds of thousands of Poles who came for the funeral waved their red-and-white national flag. Some carried banners with the logo of "Solidarity," the Polish labor movement the pope supported in his confrontations with communism.
"He was all people's father, especially for us, the Poles," said Dominika Bolechowska, 29, a teacher from the pope's favorite mountain town of Zakopane, who traveled 28 hours by bus and spent a night on the streets with her 2-year-old son.
Across Africa, Asia and the Americas, church bells tolled and millions of people gathered in open fields, sports stadiums, town squares and cathedrals to watch the funeral on large screens. Millions more mourned privately at home.
Live footage was beamed across the Middle East by the television station al-Jazeera, and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs joined Roman Catholics in church services and prayers throughout Asia to honor the pope.
Rome itself, where an estimated 4 million pilgrims doubled the population, was at a standstill as extraordinary security measures went in place. Authorities banned vehicle traffic throughout the city and combat jets, anti-aircraft batteries and an AWACS surveillance plane enforced an order to close airspace.
Two hours after the funeral, two Italian F-16 fighter jets intercepted an executive plane heading to Rome that intelligence sources worried might be carrying a bomb, an Air Force spokesman said. No bomb was found. Authorities searched and cleared a second plane on the ground.
Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital. Carabinieri armed with automatic rifles stood at virtually every major intersection, and snipers were posted on rooftops.
School was canceled in Rome, and government workers got the day off. Many stores were shuttered, with signs reading: "Closed for mourning in honor of His Sanctity John Paul II."
"The entire world is here," said Sister Claudira Ribeira Santos, a Brazilian nun. "John Paul managed to speak for all humanity in an era of wars and natural disasters, for peace and reconciliation. He tore down the walls of countries, of classes, of religions."