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Last Updated: Monday April 04 2005 13:39 GMT

Worksheet: Pope memorial rituals

When an important person dies, there are often lots of traditions, rituals and ceremonies surrounding their death.

What do these words mean?
Look them up in a dictionary and write down their definition.

  • ritual
  • tradition
  • ceremony

    Look at these traditions, rituals and ceremonies surrounding Pope John Paul II's death.

    For each one, answer these two questions:

    • How does each one help people grieve?
    • What is the meaning behind each tradition, ritual or ceremony?
    Memorial rituals across the world

    St Peter's Square in Rome
    In many countries, flags were flown at half-mast,

    In Cuba, play-offs in the national baseball league were postponed and many bars were closed.

    In the Cape Verde islands, off the coast of West Africa, a giant cross was constructed on a hill overlooking the main port.

    In Nigeria, thousands of people carried candles as they walked through the streets of Lagos to commemorate the Pope's life.

    In the Vatican, up to two million people filed past the Pope's open coffin. Candles and portraits of the Pope were strewn across the cobblestones of St Peter's Square.

    Poland has declared national mourning until the Pope's funeral. Football matches and concerts have been cancelled and theatres and cinemas closed. In the streets of Krakow, the city where the Pope lived for many years, badges were handed out showing the city's coat of arms wearing a black sash.

    In Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, and Nazareth, where Jesus is believed to have grown up, Christians are holding special prayer services.

    Rituals immediately after the Pope dies

    The Pope's body lies in state in the Vatican
    According to tradition, when a pope's body is discovered, his name is called out three times. If there is no response he is judged to be dead.

    In a small ceremony, the Pope's Fisherman's Ring and papal lead seal are broken. It is a symbolic act today, but one originally designed to prevent impersonation and forgery.

    Funeral ceremonies

    Mourners light candles outside the Vatican
    The Pope's funeral will take place in St Peter's Square in the Vatican. The heads of countries and governments, and religious leaders from around the world will be invited.

    The Pope is expected to be buried, alongside other popes, in the crypt under the main altar of St Peter's Basilica.

    Some people want the Pope's heart to be buried in Krakow, Poland, where the Pope lived for many years.

    It was the custom until the late 19th Century to bury the pope's heart separately but this tradition is not expected to be revived.

    Choosing a new Pope: Traditions

    St Peter's Square in Rome
    When a pope dies, the Catholic Church's most important priests, called Cardinals, all travel to Rome. One of them will almost certainly be the new leader.

    They go to the old Pope's funeral and then after nine days they start to elect a new Pope.

    The voting is very secretive and there are lots of odd traditions.

    The results are sent to people outside the Vatican using smoke signals.

    • Black smoke means the Cardinals haven't made up their minds yet.
    • White smoke means they have chosen a new Pope.


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