- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Beleaguered Italian officials arranged last night to cut off the enormous line of pilgrims waiting patiently to see the body of Pope John Paul II, leaving tens of thousands facing disappointment after arduous journeys to Rome.

Authorities said the lines were already so long that those at the rear were unlikely to get to see the pontiff’s remains before the viewing in St. Peter’s Basilica ends at 10 p.m. tonight. As many as 2 million people are expected for the pope’s funeral tomorrow.

An exception was made for the official U.S. delegation led by President Bush, which was taken for a private viewing after being rushed through Rome in a motorcade of up to 50 vehicles immediately after their 9:37 p.m. arrival at Leonardo da Vinci Airport.

The president, joined by his two immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton and the president’s father, George Bush, knelt in tribute last night before the pope’s body.

The U.S. delegation also included first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A total of almost 200 foreign government delegations are expected in Rome for the funeral.

Earlier yesterday, Vatican chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced that the College of Cardinals would hold its conclave on April 18 to elect a successor to John Paul, who died on Saturday at age 84 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and other ailments.

The Vatican also revealed that the pope’s testament had been read and said its contents would be made public today.

Mr. Navarro-Valls said the testament did not disclose the identity of a mystery cardinal whom John Paul is believed to have appointed secretly before he died. Neither did the 15-page document, written in stages over a number of years starting in 1979, make specific dispositions for the pope’s burial, Mr. Navarro-Valls said.

There has been considerable speculation about the identity of the unnamed cardinal, whom many suspect to be working in China and at risk of persecution if his name were known. “The question is not addressed,” the spokesman said.

Vatican sources said the testament is believed to address spiritual and theological matters — touching on the relevance of the Gospel at the start of the third Christian millennium — rather than specific practical directives.

About 1 million pilgrims, tourists and ordinary Romans were in the streets around the Vatican yesterday, but the authorities managed to keep the serpentine lines orderly by closing some streets.

Civil defense workers and volunteers distributed mineral water to people in the lines, many of them elderly and wearing slippers.

The pilgrims’ health was being monitored by 42 Red Cross doctors who arrived yesterday evening from the central Italian region of Emilia Romagna to look after the faithful.

They treated 180 persons in 12 hours at a field hospital in the nearby Piazza Risorgimento, many of them young people who “arrived at the Vatican absolutely unprepared for waiting in line for as long as 14 to 15 hours,” said Dr. Enrico Sverzellati.

Most were treated for dehydration, heatstroke or chills caught at night, while many had fainted.

City authorities said they would set up huge TV screens at seven piazzas around the Eternal City to beam images of tomorrow’s funeral to the masses who cannot get into St. Peter’s Square.

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