Mourners Feel Loss, Hope at Pope's Lying in State

Mon Apr 4, 5:57 PM ET Add to My Yahoo!          World - Reuters

By Estelle Shirbon

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Mourners streaming out of St. Peter's Basilica after paying their last respects to Pope John Paul II on Monday night spoke of feeling grief, hope, and a sense of history as they filed past his body.

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Most waited for hours, some all day, for a chance to see the Pope lying in state in Christendom's largest church, on a spot from which he often addressed the faithful. Tens of thousands more people were waiting for their turn.

"Walking toward him in that church, so big, so grandiose, was like walking into heaven toward a saint," said Sister Maximina Semita, a Mexican nun who happened to be on pilgrimage in Rome when the Pope died. She had waited eight hours.

"I felt many emotions, sadness at our loss and joy that he is in heaven. The experience has strengthened my vocation."

Pilgrims were not allowed to linger in front of the litter where the Pope lay in crimson and white vestments, but they said even a brief glimpse had been an unforgettable experience.

"It was a unique moment in history. I felt that we were all a family. He was a father to us all," said Isabel Guereiro, a middle-aged Portuguese immigrant living in Rome.

Katerina Pestka, a Polish woman working as a domestic help in Italy, was red-eyed as she emerged from the basilica.

"This is so hard for us, we are devastated. Everyone in Poland is crying, everyone. He was our Pope. I wanted to see him one last time," she said, her voice breaking up.

Many young people who had rushed straight to the Vatican filed past the Pope carrying camping equipment.

"I thought of him when he was trying to speak last week. He still had so much to say. It was a shock to see him lying there," said Nicola Imbroglia, a 22-year-old with a ring through his eyebrow and a battered backpack.

"I WOULD WAIT FOREVER"

Hours before the basilica had opened its doors to the faithful, tens of thousands were already massed between barriers leading out from St. Peter's Square toward the River Tiber.

"All my life he has been with me in my darkest moments. I would wait forever to see him," said Marcella Sogos, 36, who flew in from Sardinia for the occasion with a sleeping bag and enough food to get through the night.

"I had to come. It's as if I'd lost a close member of my family. I didn't want to miss it, just like I wouldn't want to miss my own father's funeral."

Some people were praying the Rosary as they waited, while others passed the time by reading newspapers or watching old footage of the Pope's life on giant screens.

"The Lord will give us strength to wait for as long as it takes," said Sister Lucrezia, a frail-looking elderly nun.

Many carried flowers and pictures of the Pope with messages written on them. Elisabetta Kosmala, a Polish immigrant living in Rome, was one of many of the Pope's compatriots carrying elaborate wreaths to lay at the pontiff's feet.

"I love the Pope. I'll wait as long as it takes," she said.

The line itself became something of an attraction, with many Romans strolling along the crash barriers to take pictures of the crowd with the basilica in the background. A group of paramedics climbed a lamp-post to get a better view.