Thousands wait patiently for chance to view pope’s body in basilica
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people filled St. Peter's Square and the surrounding streets, waiting more or less patiently to pay homage to Pope John Paul II.

The solemn, prayerful pomp of the ceremonial transfer of the pope's body from the Apostolic Palace to St. Peter's Basilica April 4 was replaced by informality and expressions of simple piety as the public lined up to view the pope's body.

Hundreds of police officers from the Vatican, Italy and every imaginable branch of the Italian military, as well as Red Cross workers and civil protection volunteers, patrolled the area, keeping order, handing out water and helping those who tired of waiting in line for hours.

They also had to open and close barricades to give people access to the portable toilets. Medics said that by 7 p.m. the four chemical toilets closest to St. Peter's Basilica already were full.

While a few people gave up, most seemed content to wait, chatting with friends, reminiscing about the pope, praying the rosary or talking on their mobile phones.

Rocco Conserva, 58, of Rome was in line at 3 p.m. even though Italian television and radio stations already were reporting the basilica would not open until after 8 p.m., rather than 6 p.m. as originally announced.

He said he would wait "as long as it takes" to see Pope John Paul.

"I have seen five popes in my lifetime," Conserva said. "I loved Pope John XXIII very much. He was the good pope. But this pope was universal so he was my pope…he belonged to all of us."

Titina De Carlo and her husband, Carmine Corvino, said their three children convinced them they had to come say goodbye to the pope. They came from Velletri, near the pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

"I felt very tied to this pope, so I wanted to be able to say goodbye to him," said their 15-year-old daughter, Ilaria.

Her 12-year-old brother, Gaetano, said he came "a bit out of curiosity, a bit to see him." And Gaetano's twin, Gerardo, said what he would miss most was "when Pope John Paul released the dove," an annual occurrence accompanied by prayers for peace.

With the regal pomp he avoided during his lifetime, Pope John Paul was carried on a red stretcher on the shoulders of 12 laymen into St. Peter's Basilica.

The ceremony for the transfer of the body from the Apostolic Palace to the basilica began with the cardinals present in Rome and top Vatican officials chanting in Latin: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though he dies, he will live."

Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the camerlengo or chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, sprinkled the body with holy water while those assembled sang,"In the company of the saints I will go to the house of God."

He then said, "Dearest brothers and sisters, with great emotion we will accompany the mortal remains of the Roman Pontiff John Paul II into the Vatican basilica where he often exercised his ministry as bishop of the church in Rome and pastor of the universal church."

"While we leave this house, we thank the Lord for the innumerable gifts which, through his servant Pope John Paul, he has lavished on the Christian people," the cardinal said.

He also prayed that the merciful God would grant the pope eternal rest "in the kingdom of heaven and give comfort of supernatural hope to the pontifical family, to the holy people who live in Rome and to all the faithful throughout the world."

The cardinals and priests formed a procession, singing Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want."

The pope's body was carried by 12 laymen, the "sediari" who once carried popes on their thrones through the crowds, a practice Pope John Paul never followed, even when he could no longer walk.

The pallbearers were preceded and flanked by members of the Swiss Guard.

The Polish nuns who cooked and cleaned for the Polish-born pope, his valet, his personal physician, his personal secretaries and his press spokesman followed the body.

The entire service and procession were broadcast live on television and shown on large screens set up in St. Peter's Square and along the main avenue leading toward it. Tens of thousands of people were already lined up to enter the basilica to pay homage to the pope.

After chanting other psalms, members of the procession sang Mary's Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior."

The procession went down the broad Noble Stairway, through several frescoed rooms on the first floor of the Apostolic Palace, down the Royal Stairway and through the Bronze Doors. It went into the center of St. Peter's Square, where thousands of people were waiting, then into the basilica through the central doors.

Pope John Paul's body was carried into the basilica accompanied by the chanting of the litany of saints and a series of invocations to Christ, including: "You who rose from the dead, have mercy on him. You who ascended into heaven, have mercy on him. You who will come to judge the living and the dead, have mercy on him."

The prayers in the basilica were not only for Pope John Paul, but for all humanity, that it would be freed from hunger and war.

"Give the whole world justice and peace," the assembly prayed. "Comfort and enlighten your holy church; send new workers into your vineyard; protect the bishops and all the ministers of the Gospel," they prayed.

Once the pope's body was laid before the main altar in St. Peter's, Cardinal Martinez Somalo again blessed it with holy water and with incense, then the cardinal pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the tears from his eyes.

The Sistine Chapel choir sang: "Come, saints of God; run, angels of the Lord; receive his soul and present it before the throne of the Most High."

"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him," they prayed.

The service included a brief Liturgy of the Word with a reading from St.

John's Gospel, quoting Jesus' prayer that God would welcome his disciples.

"I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them," the Gospel says.

The ceremony ended with the Canticle of Simeon: "Now, master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples."

The cardinals and priests present paid homage to the pope's body before leaving the basilica.

When the public was let in, a nun read Psalm 23 while a man sang a modern version of the refrain, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want."

Songs and prayers, including the recitation of the rosary, were scheduled to take place throughout the night.

Once inside, ushers kept the crowd moving. While a genuflection was allowed, those who knelt to pray were helped up and asked to keep moving out of courtesy to the thousands of people behind them.

As darkness fell, the faithful and the curious kept streaming to the Vatican. Carmen Borgbonaci, 53, and her sister Maria Hilda, 55, came from Valletta, Malta, and went straight from the airport to St. Peter's Square, getting in line at noon.

Asked how long they were willing to wait, Borgbonaci said: "All night. We've brought sleeping bags and water and cake."

Maria Grazia Galasso, 57, came with her husband from Viterbo, an hour north of Rome, ready to spend the night in line if necessary.

"We have our coats and half a liter of water. We'll be fine," they said after four hours of waiting and at least another five to go.

"It will be difficult for another pope to equal him," Galasso said.

An elderly Italian man begged the Carabinieri, Italian military police, to let him pass to the front of the line.

"I have a foot with gangrene" and a weak heart, he said. After producing proof that the Italian government recognizes him as disabled, they found a place for him to sit.

The police said people with handicaps were able to use a special entrance to St. Peter's Basilica, but had to wait until 9 p.m. like everyone else.

An elderly Italian woman, shaking and in tears, pleaded with the police near the front of the line, "Please let me in. Please. I was here when he was elected."

An officer in the Carabinieri finally let her through to a bench near the front of the line.

He then turned to his men and said, "Please do not send these people to me. I can't take it."

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Contributing to this story was Eleni E. Dimmler at the Vatican.

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