Life of John Paul II
Pope Laid to Rest as World Mourns
By Alan Cooperman and Daniel Williams
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A01
The 300,000 or more mourners on St. Peter's Square on Friday morning -- a kneeling, standing, tearful and radiant throng of Croatian students, Filipina nuns, American teenagers and other pilgrims from countless countries -- momentarily froze. Then came the cries from throughout the crowd: Giovanni Paolo! Santo Subito! John Paul! Sainthood at once!
A Greek Catholic prelate burns incense over
the coffin of Pope John Paul II as other Eastern Rite bishops offer prayers
toward the end of the funeral Mass at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. (Lucian Perkins --
In the stillness within St. Peter's, beyond the reach of television cameras and away from the cacophony on the square, scores of scarlet-robed cardinals formed an honor guard, lining both sides of the aisle leading to the entrance to the crypt. A handful of the pope's closest colleagues accompanied the coffin. The rest of the cardinals doffed their zucchetti, or skullcaps, in tribute.
"It was total
silence," said Cardinal Roger Mahony of
So went the last minutes of John Paul's funeral Friday: sadness and anticipation, silence and cheers. John Paul, the pontiff who became a global phenomenon, received a hero's send-off from the healthy and the lame, the privileged and the poor before being lowered privately into a simple grave beneath the basilica.
Even after his coffin
had disappeared, the crowd was unwilling to let go: The mourners remained
outside and applauded for 10 minutes. The knell of the basilica's 10-ton bell
was followed by chimes from steeples throughout
The enormous number of
mourners emphasized a challenge for the next pope: how to match John Paul's
appeal and visibility. He reigned over the world's Roman Catholics, now
numbering 1.1 billion, for 26 years. He traveled to 129 countries outside
This week, commentators here and abroad praised John Paul's efforts. Yet the church and its leaders face many serious problems that deepened during his years in office.
In recent months, Vatican officials have lamented that Europe has grown ever more secular, that finding recruits for the priesthood has become increasingly difficult, that the faithful in Latin America are drifting toward Protestant churches and that the voice of the church has not been heeded on matters of war and peace.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who presided over the Mass, had the delicate
task of eulogizing John Paul while also pinpointing work that remained
unfinished. His sermon was the first of several by top prelates due to be
delivered each day until April 18, when the cardinals will convene a conclave
to elect a new pope. Few words will be more closely heeded than Ratzinger's. He was the
In the middle of the sermon, delivered in Italian, Ratzinger recalled the title of a recent book written by John Paul: "Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way."
words," Ratzinger declared, "he roused us
from a lethargic faith." The crisis of faith has been a consistent theme
of Ratzinger's public statements and calls for church
renewal. Ratzinger also noted that John Paul had
sacrificed a comfortable life as parish priest to become auxiliary bishop of
In Ratzinger's eyes, this is a parable of sacrifice that stands in contrast to calls by some Catholics that priests should be allowed to lead normal, married lives. Ratzinger said of John Paul: "He realized how true are the Lord's words: Those who try to make their life secure lose it."
The mourners clapped.
And noting the ailing pope's appearance at his apartment window on Easter to bless the crowd below, Ratzinger said: "We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us."
The funeral began when the pallbearers brought the simple wooden coffin out of the basilica. A cross and the letter M, for Mary, were laminated on the lid, and a papal aide placed a volume of the Gospels open on top, allowing the pages to blow symbolically in the wind. A chorus chanted in Latin: "Lord, grant him eternal rest."
About 160 cardinals, of whom 117 are younger than 80 and therefore eligible to help elect the next pope, sat to the left of the coffin, as seen from the square. World leaders, mostly in dark suits, sat to the right.
The homage to John Paul
brought together politicians who otherwise might never dream of being in the
same pew. President Bush sat not far from President Mohammad Khatami of
The fervor among those in the crowd was evident. Many were veterans of the arduous line to view John Paul's body inside the basilica, where it had been on display since Monday afternoon. Banners praised John Paul as "Our angel." Church groups waved colorful handkerchiefs, and many were clustered under their national flags.
When the outdoor rites were over, Elena Sardu blew kisses toward the basilica's big bronze doors as the coffin was carried inside. "I feel an emptiness, an uncertainty," she said. Sardu and her family had waited in line from about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday until 3 a.m. Thursday to pass by the pope's body. Her husband came close to taking their three children home. But "they all said they wanted to stay and see him," Sardu said.
Sardu, 33, said she, her husband and their children, Mattia, 12, and twins Martina and Vanessa, 7, had been blessed -- touched on the head -- by the pope seven years ago when he visited their neighborhood church in Rome. "It was so emotional, indescribable," she said. "He touched my heart. I don't see how anyone can take his place." Near the end of the funeral, her children helped raise a sign that read: "Giovanni Paolo II, you'll always be in our hearts."
In the early morning, pilgrims and Romans strolled toward St. Peter's; automobile traffic was prohibited along many streets until 6 p.m. Police eyed the crowd as civilian volunteers handed out water and ensured that pedestrians did not leap over metal barricades. Helicopters hovered overhead, adding to the aura of watchfulness.
Many in the throng were young -- the kind of crowd John Paul liked to attract. They had mixed views of his legacy.
Silvia Briga, 27, a product manager from
At the ancient chariot
stadium Circus Maximus, where camping pilgrims
watched the proceedings on a giant TV screen, Bret Federigan,
28, a high school teacher from
"I went to a Catholic school. I love the pope as a figure and a world leader," he said. "The pope is important for what he's done for the 20th century. But he is too conservative for the good of people -- for example, contraception and AIDS. His position runs against popular sentiment."
Tanja Sladic, 25, arrived from
After the Mass, the
pope's coffin was lowered by pulley into the ground in a plot inside a small
chapel, between the tombs of Queen Christina of
Special correspondents Sarah Delaney and William Magnuson contributed to this report.