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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Poles bid Pope emotional farewell
By Stuart Hughes
BBC News, Krakow

Servers at service in Krakow
Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at Blonie on return visits to Poland
From before sunrise they began streaming towards the Blonie field on the western outskirts of Krakow, to join those who had braved the cold and discomfort to keep vigil all night.

Some had camped out in tents, others had slept in their cars to secure the best positions in front of the giant television screens erected to relay Pope John Paul II's funeral from the Vatican.

Many had spent the previous evening at this same spot, taking part in a huge march and open-air Mass in memory of the man they regard as the greatest Pole of all time.

Karol Wojtyla was ordained in Krakow, celebrated his first Mass here and was archbishop of this former royal capital from 1963 until his election to the papacy in 1978.

Tens of thousands of Poles had made the long journey to the Vatican, travelling by plane and train, coach and car, in the hope of catching a final glimpse of their beloved countryman.

But for those unable to get to the funeral, this was the next best thing.

Father figure

Wojtyla celebrated Mass at the Blonie field four times after becoming Pope.

"We camped out here and spent the night singing hymns and praying," said Mieszko Podlesny, 18, a student from Katowice.

He was like a father to us and his death has affected us all but we must be strong and pray that one day soon he'll be made a saint
Rafael Kelm, 17
"We just want to be together with friends and say our last goodbye to the Holy Father.

"It's a very difficult moment for me, but John Paul II told us not to be sad."

"It's almost as if a member of our family has died," added Rafael Kelm, 17.

"He was like a father to us and his death has affected us all but we must be strong and pray that one day soon he'll be made a saint."

Normal life in Poland was suspended for the day.

Factories, banks and schools remained closed to enable the public to watch the funeral, either at home or on the outdoor screens erected in Krakow and other major Polish cities.

As they watched the service, mourners at the Blonie field lit candles, bowed their heads in prayer or embraced silently.

Empty chair

Some held Polish and Vatican flags aloft. Other carried banners proclaiming "Farewell Holy Father" and "John Paul II: We want our lives to make you proud".

Thousands also gathered in the Pope's home town of Wadowice
The Papal chair used by John Paul II during his visits to Poland sat on a specially-constructed altar - only this time it remained empty.

In June 1979, shortly after becoming Pope, John Paul addressed the largest crowd in Polish history - up to three million people - here at the Blonie field.

On that day he described this city as "my beloved Krakow, where every brick, every stone is dear to me".

Twenty six years later, as Poland joined the world in bidding farewell to John Paul II, hundreds of thousands of Krakowians returned that love.

Watch the crowds gather in Krakow to remember the Pope

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