Cardinals set the date to choose next pontiff

CARDINALS yesterday called a conclave starting in 12 days’ time to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II.

Meanwhile, more than one million people lined up to see the Pontiff’s body, bringing chaos to Rome.

Italian authorities appealed to pilgrims to stay away from the centre of Rome, saying it was saturated and any newcomers would have no chance of seeing tomorrow’s funeral.

Guido Bertolaso, head of crowd control for the funeral, told reporters more than one million people had already flocked to Rome, where the usual population is around three million, and urged the faithful to go to a special camp on the city outskirts.

“The city centre cannot take the arrival of any more faithful,” said Mr Bertolaso. “Anyone arriving tonight or tomorrow will have no possibility of following the funeral at St Peter’s.”

Italy called in the army to help manage the rapidly swelling tumult ahead of the funeral, which is set to be one of the biggest in history, and prepared to shut off the endless queue of faithful who were waiting up to 14 hours to see the body.

Authorities said they would not allow anyone else to join the lines from 10pm (8pm Irish time) last night - almost a day ahead of schedule. Medics around Vatican City said they had treated hundreds of people, most of whom fainted after waiting as long as 14 hours.

“It’s a long time to wait,” said Craig Simoneaux, 49, from Illinois.

“But how long does it really take to say goodbye?”

The elaborate funeral rites will draw the biggest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times. Four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and more than 14 leaders of other religions will attend.

Some of the dignitaries meet rarely if ever, a fitting tribute to a Pope who spoke out for world peace.

Meanwhile, cardinals chose Monday, April 18, as the start date for their conclave to replace John Paul II. The electors will vote in the Sistine Chapel twice a day until they have selected a new pontiff.

The conclave will be open to all cardinals aged under 80 - 117 in all. A two-thirds majority is needed to choose the new Pope.

Most modern conclaves have lasted only a few days, but if cardinals have failed to elect a Pope after about two weeks of balloting, they can opt for a simple majority.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said John Paul’s last will and testament was read to the cardinals yesterday and would be released today.

He said the document, which is likely to be of a spiritual nature, was roughly 15 pages long and written over the course of his pontificate, starting in 1979, the year after his election.

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