Pope ‘offered his life for his flock,’ cardinal tells funeral throng
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II "offered his life for his flock and for the entire human family," the dean of the College of Cardinals told hundreds of thousands of people gathered April 8 for the pope's funeral Mass and burial.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean, presided over the Mass concelebrated by 164 of the world's 183 cardinals. Another 500 bishops and 3,000 priests, wearing red stoles, participated.

Kings, queens, presidents—including U.S. President George W. Bush—Cabinet ministers and ambassadors representing more than 140 nations sat off to one side of Pope John Paul's casket.

On the other side of the altar sat the representatives of the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and U.S. evangelical communities.

Ten Jewish and 10 Muslim organizations sent delegations, as did Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus.

An estimated 300,000 people filled St. Peter's Square and the streets surrounding the Vatican. Hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims watched the funeral on big-screen televisions set up in the main squares of Rome and at a university on the outskirts of town.

In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said Pope John Paul's life was a constant response to Christ's call to all believers, "Follow me."

Even when he was called to enter into "the communion of Christ's suffering" as he aged and Parkinson's disease rendered him unable to walk and later unable to speak, Pope John Paul continued to follow, the cardinal said.

"The pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful," Cardinal Ratzinger said.

As television cameras swung round to the window of the papal apartments, the German cardinal said Pope John Paul had come to the window March 27 to give his solemn Easter blessing to the church and the world, but was not able to get out the words.

"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," the cardinal said.

"Yes, bless us," he said as the crowd broke out in loud applause.

In the crowd, Pedro Paul of Caracas, Venezuela, said that in his death, Pope John Paul "continues to evangelize. He hasn't gone yet. He is still guiding us."

Ryan Moravitz, a seminarian from Duluth, Minn., said, "John Paul II planted the seeds of the new evangelization and even got to water them a bit. It is alive in the Church. He helped the faith of the Church in a creative, progressive way."

A nun from Mendoza, Argentina, expressed amazement at the size of the crowd and the atmosphere.

"I've never seen so many people together praying," said Incarnate Word Sister Maria Corredentora.

Two hours before the funeral Mass began, 15 Vatican officials, other priests and the pope's closest aides gathered in St. Peter's Basilica to witness Pope John Paul's body being placed in a cypress casket and closed.

The "rogito," a document rolled up and placed in a tube, was read before being placed in the casket with the body. It described "the life and the most important works of the deceased pontiff."

The document said the pope died April 2 at 9:37 p.m.: "The whole church, especially young people, accompanied his passing in prayer."

"John Paul II was the 264th pope. His memory remains in the heart of the church and of all humanity," it said.

The document, which included biographical information, said his pontificate of more than 26 years "was one of the longest in the history of the church" and took place during a time of great historical change.

Among the specific themes of his pontificate highlighted in the document were his love for young people; his promotion of dialogue with Jews and with members of other religions; his prayerfulness and devotion to the rosary; and the "wisdom and courage" with which he promoted Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the camerlengo, explaining the rites to those assembled, said, "We will cover his face with respect and veneration in the deep hope that he can contemplate the face of the Father, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints."

He then prayed to God, "May his face, on which the light of the world no longer shines, be illuminated forever by the true light that has its inexhaustible source in you."

"May his face, which is being hidden from our view, contemplate your beauty," he prayed.

Then Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwicz, the pope's personal secretary for more than 30 years, and Archbishop Piero Marini, the pope's master of ceremonies, extended a white silk cloth over his face.

To the applause of the crowd, the pope's casket—with a simple cross and "M" for Mary on it—was carried by 12 laymen into St. Peter's Square and placed before the altar, which was not under the canopy usually erected for papal Masses.

Archbishop Marini opened the Book of the Gospels and set it on the casket. A strong wind blew the pages of the Gospel and billowed the chasubles of the concelebrating cardinals.

The Bible readings at the Mass were in Spanish, English and Latin.

The prayers of the faithful at the Mass were recited in French, Swahili, Filipino, Polish, German and Portuguese.

They included prayers for the eternal repose of the pope's soul, for the fidelity and renewal of the Catholic Church, for peace and justice in the world, for the souls of all previous popes and all deceased priests, for all the faithful departed and for those gathered at the funeral.

The political dignitaries present at the funeral included King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Among the U.S. delegates from other Christian churches were Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; John A. Graham of the Billy Graham Organization of Evangelicals; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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Contributing to this story was Barbara J. Fraser at the Vatican.

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