Da International Herald Tribune del 08/04/2005
Originale su http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/04/08/europe/web.pfuneral.html

Throngs bid farewell to Pope John Paul II at funeral in St. Peter’s Square

VATICAN CITY - Presidents, prime ministers and kings joined millions of pilgrims, prelates and other religious leaders crowding St. Peter’s Square and Rome in paying a final farewell Friday to Pope John Paul II at a funeral capping one of the largest religious gatherings in the West in modern times.

Applause rang out as John Paul’s simple wooden coffin, adorned with a cross and the ‘‘M’’ for Mary, was carried out into the square from St. Peter’s Basilica and placed on a carpet on the ground in front of the altar.

Prelates placed a copy of the Gospel on the coffin as the Vatican’s Sistine Choir sang the Gregorian chant ‘‘Grant him eternal rest O Lord.’’ Cardinals wearing white miters processed out onto the square, the wind whipping their red vestments and the pages of the Gospel.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, referred to him as our ‘‘late beloved pope’’ in a homily that traced his life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the last days of his life as the head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

Interrupted by applause at least 10 times, the usually unflappable German-born Ratzinger choked with emotion as he recalled one of John Paul’s last public appearances — when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter Sunday.

‘‘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,’’ he said to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.

‘‘Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality — our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude,’’ said Ratzinger in heavily accented Italian.

He said John Paul was a ‘‘priest to the last’’ and said he had offered his life for God and his flock ‘‘especially amid the sufferings of his final months.’’

Groggy pilgrims who had camped out on the cobblestones awoke in their sleeping bags to hordes of the faithful stepping over them as they tried to secure a good spot to view the Mass. The square and the boulevard leading to it were a sea of red and white flags waved by pilgrims from John Paul’s beloved Poland, many in traditional dress shouting ‘‘Polska! Polska!’’ ‘‘We just wanted to say goodbye to our father for the last time,’’ said Joanna Zmijewsla, 24, who traveled for 30 hours with her brother Szymon from a town near Kielce, Poland, and arrived at St. Peter’s at 1 a.m. Friday. Polish families from John Paul’s hometown of Wadowice brought offertory gifts up to the altar. Pilgrims from other countries raised their national flags in the crowd — American, Lebanese, Spanish, Croatian — and prayers were read out during the Mass in a host of languages: French, Swahili, Portuguese, among others.

Before the Mass began, American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted black-clad dignitaries and religious leaders as they emerged from St. Peter’s Basilica onto the steps. Many of the officials shook Harvey’s hand and offered condolences before mingling and taking their appointed seats. Turbans, fezzes, yarmulkes, black lace veils, or mantillas, joined the zucchettos or skull caps of Catholic prelates in an extraordinary mix of religious and government leaders from around the world.

‘‘I’m here because I’m a believer but also to live a moment in history,’’ said Stephan Aubert, wearing a French flag draped over his shoulders.

Bells tolled as the the last of the leaders took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the funeral, the U.S. delegation arrived, headed by President George W. Bush and including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton.

Rome itself was at a standstill. Friday morning, just after midnight, a ban on vehicle traffic took effect in the city center. Air space was closed and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert. Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.

Italian authorities took extraordinary precautions to protect the royalty and heads of state or government attending the funeral. Dignitaries from more than 80 countries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders, also were attending.

The pope’s death on Saturday has evinced a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world and brought an estimated 4 million people to Rome to see the funeral from up close. Most of the pilgrims, however, can only hope to see the ceremony on giant TV screens that have been erected around the Vatican and in piazzas around Rome and the Circus Maximus.

The funeral was preceded by an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of the pope’s life in his coffin.

John Paul’s longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, placed a white silk veil over the pope’s face before the coffin was closed. After a series of hymns, readings and the homily, Ratzinger will call all to prayer.

‘‘Dear brothers and sisters let us entrust to the most gentle mercy of God, the soul of our Pope John Paul II. ... May the Blessed Virgin Mary ... intercede with God so that he might show the face of his blessed Son to our pope, and console the church with the light of the Resurrection.’’ The Mass ends with all standing and together singing: ‘‘May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem.’’

After that, the body will be carried deep under St. Peter’s Basilica, where it will join the remains of popes from centuries past near the traditional tomb of the apostle Peter, the first pope.

On the eve of the funeral, the Vatican released John Paul’s last will and testament, written in Polish over 22 years beginning five months after his election in October 1978.

In it, John Paul said he wanted to be buried ‘‘in the bare Earth’’ and have prayers and Masses celebrated after his death.

He instructed his private secretary to burn his personal notes. He also suggested he considered resigning in 2000, when his infirmities were already apparent. Revising his will just three days before a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, John Paul prayed that God would ‘‘help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service.’’

The former rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, was among the religious leaders attending the funeral. He was one of only two living people mentioned in John Paul’s will. The other one was Dziwisz.

On Thursday, the huge bronze doors of St. Peter’s, where the pope had lain in state since Monday, were closed to the public in preparation for the Mass. In four days, some estimates say nearly 2 million pilgrims passed by his remains to say their farewells in the few seconds they had in front of the bier. Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by children with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up at the Circus Maximus and elsewhere around the city to take the spillover from hotels. Hawkers jacked up prices of everything from bottled water to papal trinkets.

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