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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
World comes to Pope's funeral

By Peter Gould
BBC News website, Rome

In life, John Paul II travelled the world, taking his message to the faithful.

Nuns in prayer
Nuns in prayer at the Pope's funeral
In death, the world came to him.

Presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens were here to pay homage to a remarkable pope.

And there were millions more mourners, who helped to make this the biggest funeral in history.

Before dawn, pilgrims were advancing on the Vatican like an invading army.

They came equipped with supplies of food and drink in backpacks and carrier bags.

Polish pilgrimage

Many were singing and waving flags, with the red and white of Poland visible everywhere.

It is thought that between one and two million people from the Pope's homeland travelled to Italy for the funeral.

Some spent the night huddled beneath blankets, sleeping under the stars to ensure a place in St Peter's Square.

They were rewarded with a good vantage point, but others were not so lucky. A long column of people stretched back along the Via Della Conciliazione towards the River Tiber.

But they were very much a part of the service. They stood facing towards St Peter's Square, joining in the prayers and making the sign of the Cross.

Following the proceedings on huge television screens, they were part of a collective experience that was clearly full of meaning for them.

Thankful

An off-duty Italian policeman, Vincenzo Branchi, said that as a devout Catholic he had tried to follow the teachings of the Pope.

Sign saying thank you
Grazie, a thank you poster hangs from a local school

"John Paul II meant so much to me," he said. "He was my reference point."

Hanging from the window of one building was a message of thanks to the Pope from a local school, expressed in a single word: "Grazie".

The children had all written their names on the banner, another indication of the special bond between the elderly pontiff and young people.

Before the Mass began, there was a private ceremony in the basilica at which the body of the Pope was placed in a simple coffin of cypress wood.

It was slowly carried out into the square by a dozen pallbearers. What followed was a traditional requiem Mass, familiar to any Catholic.

Presiding over the service was a close friend of the Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is the Dean of the College of Cardinals.

Emotion

Hundreds of invited guests, including representatives of many faiths, listened as he paid tribute to John Paul II.

"Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," he said.

Mexican man at funeral mass
This pilgrim used his flag to wipe away his tears

The German cardinal's voice was full of emotion as he recalled the Pope's appearance at his window on Easter Sunday.

At the end of the homily there was prolonged applause from the crowd, and chants of "Santo, Santo" as they pressed their demand for the Pope to be made a saint.

A pilgrim from Mexico waved his national flag, then took off his black sombrero and waved that too.

He shouted "Juan Pablo! Juan Pablo!" again and again. Then, overcome with emotion, he used the flag to wipe the tears from his eyes.

At the conclusion of the service, Cardinal Ratzinger said a final prayer asking God to receive John Paul II in heaven.

He continued: "To the Church, deprived of its pastor, give the comfort of faith and the strength of hope."

The Pope's coffin was then carried back into St Peter's Basilica, for the interment in the crypt, and Vatican bells began to toll.

In keeping with tradition, the Pope was to be buried in a triple-lined coffin of cypress wood, zinc and oak.

This part of the ceremony took place in private, in the presence of the Pope's closest aides.

In St Peter's Square, the crowd slowly began to disperse. Many of those here today face a long and tiring journey home.

But ask any of them whether it was worth the effort, they will tell you they had to be here to say farewell to John Paul II.

It was a day of sadness, but also a time to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man.

It was an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.




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