Thousands prepare to bid Pope farewell

Mourners streamed past the crimson-robed body of John Paul II for a second day today, with thousands waiting in line to say a personal farewell to the pontiff, as the cardinals who will elect his successor prepared for another round of preparatory meetings to arrange for the conclave.

Mourners streamed past the crimson-robed body of John Paul II for a second day today, with thousands waiting in line to say a personal farewell to the pontiff, as the cardinals who will elect his successor prepared for another round of preparatory meetings to arrange for the conclave.

As dawn broke, buses unloaded huge groups of students, pilgrims and clergy, who joined a line stretching for miles along the wide avenue leading up to St Peter’s Square and through the streets of the neighbourhood that surrounds the Vatican.

Civil protection officials handed out tea and croissants to those who had waited in unseasonably cold temperatures overnight.

“It’s an extraordinary day,” said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, archbishop of Genoa, who was greeting pilgrims in line, flanked by a camera crew and security personnel. He said the crowds were there “to give back to the Pope all the love the Pope gave to the world.”

Rome is bracing for an unprecedented flow of pilgrims – some predict their numbers may match the city’s own three million residents – for the days leading to Friday’s funeral.

John Paul will be laid to rest with regal pageantry and in the presence of kings, presidents and prime ministers, alongside pontiffs of centuries past near the traditional tomb of the first Pope, St. Peter.

The doors of St Peter’s Basilica were opened to the general public last night. At 3am (2am Irish time) today, an hour later than had been announced, the doors were closed for cleaning and the faithful outside started chanting “Open-up, open-up!” in protest.

A few gave up and left, but most simply camped out on the side of the road, wrapping up in blankets and sleeping bags. Just before 5am (4am irish time), about 20 minutes earlier than planned, the basilica’s doors reopened and people rushed back into line.

“It was sad but amazing, there were so many people in the basilica but it was still completely silent,” said Lauren Davia, a 20-year-old American who studies in Rome. Davia saw the Pope after a four-hour wait that began early in the morning. Faithful coming during the day could expect to wait for even longer.

Margherita Saccomani, who came from the Tuscan port town of Leghorn to pay her respects to the Pope, huddled under an emergency foil blanket with her three children during the wait.

“I hope it’s not curiosity but deep faith that brings people here,” the 43-year-old Saccomani said. “I am here because I want my daughters to experience this.”

The College of Cardinals, the group of venerated church leaders who will pick one of their own to succeed John Paul, was holding a second day of meetings today to decide the arrangements for the funeral and the conclave that will elect John Paul’s successor.

The cardinals – who are sworn to secrecy on their deliberations – are to review any papers the Pope may have left for them. One may reveal to the college the name of a mysterious cardinal John Paul said he had named in 2003 but had never publicly identified. The cardinal is called “in pectore,” or “in the heart” – a formula that has been used when the Pope wants to name a cardinal in a country where the church is oppressed.

Hundreds of dignitaries are expected to attend Friday’s funeral, in a city that will virtually shut down for all other purposes.

“It will be a moment without precedent,” Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni told Repubblica Radio. “Rome will grind to a halt to guarantee the full development of the demonstration of love for the pontificate, guaranteeing the maximum security for all the heads of state who will arrive to pay homage to the Pope.”

Yesterday, John Paul’s body was removed from the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, where it had laid in state for prelates and dignitaries. Twelve pallbearers in white gloves, flanked by Swiss Guards in medieval uniform, bore the Pope’s remains on a scarlet platform to the basilica.

On his feet were a pair of the simple brown leather shoes he favoured during his 26-year pontificate and wore on many of his trips to more than 120 countries - a poignant reminder of the legacy of history’s most-travelled Pope.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said John Paul would “almost surely” be buried in the tomb where Pope John XXIII lay before he was brought up onto the main floor of the basilica. John XXIII, who died in 1963, was moved after his 2000 beatification because so many pilgrims wanted to visit his tomb, and the grotto is in a cramped underground space.

Navarro-Valls made no mention of a date for the papal election, or conclave, implying that no such decision had been taken during Monday’s inaugural meeting of the cardinals. By church law, the conclave must take place within two weeks of the burial.

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