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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
World remembers Pope John Paul II
Nuns at the prayer vigil at St Peter's Square
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Rome to mark the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II with an evening prayer vigil.

Pope Benedict XVI blessed the candlelit event in St Peter's Square at 2137 local time (1937 GMT), the exact time of his predecessor's death.

He appeared in the window of his apartment, where John Paul died, to address the crowds gathered below.

Bells also rang out in John Paul's homeland Poland to mark the moment.

Crowds gathered in Krakow watched Pope Benedict's address being broadcast live on a large screen, while an open-air candelit Mass was also held in Warsaw.

Pope Benedict said the memory of "our beloved John Paul II" was still very much alive.

"He continues to be present in our minds and in our hearts, he continues to communicate his love for God and his love for man, he continues to arouse in everyone, especially the young, enthusiasm for goodness and the courage to follow Jesus and his teachings."

The tomb of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican crypt

Pope Benedict also recalled John Paul's pain in the final weeks of his life, saying he had faced his illness with courage and had given suffering "dignity and value".

A sea of Polish flags could be seen in the square, and Pope Benedict read part of his address in Polish for those watching in John Paul's homeland.

Throughout the day, thousands of people attended anniversary ceremonies in Poland and around the world.

Some 8,000 people took part in an open-air mass held in John Paul's home town of Wadowice, southern Poland.

The main square was decorated with yellow and white papal banners, along with national and local flags.

"We came to pray for his quick beatification and also to pray to him to protect our family," said Wojciech Gladysz, who had travelled 350 km (220 miles) from Warsaw with his wife and three children for the anniversary.

'World transformation'

The white marble slab in the crypt underneath St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican has become a favourite place of pilgrimage, attracting up to 10,000 visitors each day, says the BBC David Willey in Rome.

Earlier, at a Mass near Krakow, where John Paul II used to live, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife sat alongside thousands of Poles who had gathered to remember the former pope.

John Paul's former secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, led the ceremony at the Divine Mercy sanctuary in Lagiewniki, near Krakow.

I will remember him for being a uniter of all people
Julie P, Marietta, US

Much of Krakow, where John Paul spent half of his life, was draped in the papal colours of yellow and white for the anniversary.

On Saturday, two buglers played the late pontiff's favourite song, Barka, from the spire of a basilica in the heart of Krakow.

It officially brought to an end the work of a Polish church tribunal set up to gather evidence in the process of making John Paul II a saint.

In the year since his death, John Paul has been fast-tracked by the Vatican towards official sainthood, our Rome correspondent adds.

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