- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

VATICAN CITY — A funeral service of unprecedented grandeur and solemnity awaited kings, presidents and pilgrims today, who came to say farewell to the religious leader who touched the lives of billions from all faiths.

Pope John Paul II spoke to them all one last time yesterday, when the Vatican released his final will and testament, a deeply personal document in which he voiced his fears for the Church and doubts at his own ability to continue leading.

“I hope He helps me understand until what moment I have to continue in the service to which he called me on October 16, 1978,” John Paul wrote in 2000, as the world anticipated the new millennium and his own health was beginning to deteriorate rapidly from the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Hundreds of people bedded down on the streets around the Vatican last night, ready to rush into St. Peter’s Square when it opens for the biggest Western religious gathering in modern history this morning.

In front of the 16th-century basilica, a last few thousand pilgrims lined up to view the pope’s body lying in state, many of them carrying the red-and-white flag of his native Poland and singing to celebrate the end of 16 hours in line.

“He was the greatest Pole there will ever be. He was our father, our friend, our liberator,” said Piotr Buchta, lining up after a 26-hour bus journey from the pope’s birthplace, Wadowice.

Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by youths with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up to take the spillover from hotels.

“You really have to love the pope to be willing to do this,” said Nathanael Valdenaire, a young Frenchman who slept on the pavement in a sleeping bag alongside his sisters.

The pope’s simple wooden coffin will be carried out of St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m., where, 26 years ago, Karol Wojtyla first emerged as pontiff to stun the world with his vitality and charisma.

The funeral is to begin with an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who will place a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of his life in the pope’s coffin.

John Paul’s longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who will lead the liturgical ceremonies, and Archbishop Piero Marini, are to place a white silk veil over the pope’s face before the coffin is closed.

The funeral Mass, scheduled to last about 21/2 hours, will be celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, and he will be joined by the cardinals and patriarchs of the Eastern Rite Churches, all in red vestments.

The funeral Mass ends 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.”

Then the prelates leave the altar in procession, carrying the coffin from the basilica down the steps of St. Peter to the Vatican grotto.

Four kings, five queens and at least 70 presidents and prime ministers will attend the funeral rites in St. Peter’s Square, as millions of faithful from every corner of the globe cram the surrounding streets trying to catch a glimpse.

Rome’s security agencies — bolstered by NATO surveillance aircraft — cranked up their defenses against everything from terrorism to unruly crowds.

Rome authorities, who began preparations to protect the city even before the pope’s death Saturday, began locking down the city last night.

They closed off the city center to vehicle traffic. Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.

John Paul, in his will written in stages over a period of more than 20 years, indicated early in his pontificate that he considered a funeral in his native Poland, but later decided against that idea.

In a March 1979 entry to his testament, John Paul said he left no material property and asked that his longtime private secretary, Archbishop Dziwisz, burn all his personal notes.

The testament mentioned only two living persons: Archbishop Dziwisz and the retired chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who welcomed him to the city’s synagogue in 1986 in a historic gesture of reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Jews.

Each entry was written in Polish during Lent, the period of reflection before Easter.

In the final entry, he appeared to consider stepping aside.

“Now, in the year during which my age reaches 80 years, it is necessary to ask if it is not the time to repeat the words of the biblical Simeon, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ ”

The reference is to the passage, “Now Master you may let your servant go.”

In an early entry, he scratched in the margins that he wanted to be buried “in the bare earth, not a tomb.”

Accordingly, John Paul will be placed in the grottoes under St. Peter’s Basilica.

He worried about the safety of the Church and of his own country in the days before the fall of the communist regime.

“In some countries … the church is undergoing a period of such persecution as to be in no way lesser than that of early centuries; indeed, it surpasses them in its degree of cruelty and hatred,” he wrote. “And apart from this, many people disappear innocently, even in this country in which we are living.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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