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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 8, 2005

Faithful farewell

 •  Priest here finds saying 'our pope' hard habit to break at Mass
 •  A tribute to Pope John Paul II

By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Presidents, prime ministers, kings and religious leaders from around the world joined 4 million pilgrims in paying a final farewell today to Pope John Paul II in one of the largest religious gatherings in the West in modern times.

The casket containing the body of Pope John Paul II was carried from St. Peter's Basilica during his funeral service today at the Vatican. Millions bade farewell to the pope, who died Saturday at age 84.

Lefteris Pitarakis • Associated Press

Applause rang out in St. Peter's Square as John Paul's simple wooden coffin adorned with a cross and the "M" for Mary was brought out into the windy square from the basilica and placed on the ground in front of the altar. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and the breeze blew the pages.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor — gave the homily during the funeral Mass. He traced the pontiff's 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 up as he recalled one of John Paul's last public appearances — when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter.

"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, as he pointed 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," Ratzinger said 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."

The Mass was to end 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 the Mass, the body was to be carried deep under the basilica, where it will join the remains of popes from throughout the ages near the traditional tomb of the apostle Peter, the first pope.

John Paul requested in his last will and testament to be buried "in the bare earth," and his body will be laid to rest under the floor of the grotto below the basilica. His tomb will be covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death. Pilgrims will eventually be able to visit.

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 from a town near Kielce, Poland, arriving at St. Peter's at 1 a.m. today.

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.

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

Bush was close to the front of the section for world leaders, who were seated in alphabetical order — in French. The United States in French is Etats-Unis.

Rome itself was at a standstill. Just after midnight yesterday, a ban took effect on vehicle traffic in the city center. Airspace was closed, and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert. Naval ships patrolled the Medi-terranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny 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.

The pope's death on Saturday has elicited a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world, most powerfully in his homeland. An estimated 2 million of the pilgrims in Rome came from Poland.

Most pilgrims, however, only saw the ceremony on giant TV screens erected around the Vatican and in piazzas around Rome.

In Krakow, Poland, 300,000 people watched the funeral on three screens set up in a field.