residents, prime ministers and kings joined pilgrims and prelates in St. Peter's Square yesterday to bid farewell to Pope John Paul II at a funeral service that drew millions to Rome for one of the largest religious gatherings of modern times.
Applause rang out in the wind-whipped square as John Paul's simple wooden coffin adorned with a cross and an "M" for Mary was brought out from the basilica and placed on the ground in front of the altar for the Mass.
Bells tolled and the crowd applauded again when the coffin was presented to them one last time and carried back inside for burial.
Dignitaries from over 80 countries who had gathered in Rome for the Mass all stood as the white-gloved pallbearers carried the coffin on their shoulders through the central portal of the basilica.
John Paul was being buried underneath in the grottos with popes of past centuries.
The service began with the Gregorian chant Grant him Eternal rest O Lord. Cardinals wearing white miters processed onto the square, the wind rippling their red vestments and the pages of the book of the Gospel, which was placed on the coffin.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, referred to him as our "late beloved Pope" in a homily that traced his 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 with emotion as he recalled one of John Paul's last public appearances -- when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter Sunday.
"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 to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up 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."
Ratzinger was interrupted again toward the end of the Mass by several minutes of cheers and shouts of "Giovanni Paolo Santo" (Saint John Paul) from the crowd. The eruption of cheers came right before the Litany of Saints chant, in which saints are named.
Groggy pilgrims who had camped out on the cobblestones had awakened in their sleeping bags to hordes of the faithful stepping over them as they tried to secure a good spot to view the Mass.
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!"
Before the Mass, US Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted black-clad dignitaries and religious leaders as they emerged from St. Peter's onto the steps.
Many of the officials shook Harvey's hand and offered condolences before mingling and taking their appointed seats.
Turbans, fezzes, yarmulkes and black lace veils, or mantillas, joined the zucchettos or skull caps of Catholic prelates on the basilica's steps in an extraordinary mix of religious and government leaders from around the world.
Bells tolled as the last of the leaders took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the funeral, the US delegation arrived, headed by President George W. Bush and including his father, former president George H.W. Bush, and former president Bill Clinton.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, sat next to French President Jacques Chirac and his wife.
Rome itself was at a standstill. Yesterday morning, just after midnight, a ban on vehicle traffic took effect throughout the city. Air space was closed and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert.
Italian authorities took extraordinary precautions to protect the royalty and heads of state or government attending the funeral. Dignitaries from more than 80 countries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders, were also in attendance.
Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City.
The Pope's death last Saturday evinced a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world and brought an estimated 4 million people to Rome to see the funeral.
At least 300,000 people filled St. Peter's Square and Via della Conciliazione straight to the Tiber River, waving flags from the US, Croatia, Lebanon and elsewhere, many of them adorned with black ribbons of mourning. Banners read "Santo Subito" (sainthood immediately).
Several million more watched on giant video screens set up across Rome in piazzas and at the enormous Circus Maximus, where a group of youngsters wearing T-shirts that read "The boys of Pope John Paul The Great" sold a commemorative booklet about the pontiff.
"I had a special affection for this Pope because he loved all people of all religions," said Alex Van Arkabie, 60, who was holding a flag from his native Sri Lanka as he recited the rosary in the Circus Maximus.
The funeral was preceded by an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of the Pope's life in his coffin.
John Paul's longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, placed a white silk veil over the Pope's face before the coffin was closed.
Dziwisz was seen weeping on several occasions.
After a series of hymns, readings and the homily, Ratzinger called all to prayer.
The Mass ended 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 that, the body was carried into St. Peter's Basilica, to be laid to rest among the remains of popes from centuries past near the tomb traditionally believed to be of the apostle Peter, the first Pope.
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