- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and ordinary Romans filed past Pope John Paul II’s body to pay their last respects yesterday after his remains were carried on a red velvet bier to St. Peter’s Basilica from the Apostolic Palace.

Police lined the majestic Via della Conciliazione avenue leading to the basilica as the throng moved through St. Peter’s doors after a prayer service attended by cardinals, bishops and dignitaries.

There was no immediate report of anyone hurt in the rush to venerate the pontiff, whose body was placed at a spot just before the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope.

On John Paul’s feet were a pair of the simple brown leather shoes he favored during his 26-year pontificate and wore on many of his trips to more than 120 countries.

He will be buried in a grotto underneath the basilica after a funeral on Friday, expected to be attended by about 2 million.

Earlier, the Vatican press corps was permitted to see the pope’s body laid out in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, where it was taken from his private apartment after he died at age 84 on Saturday evening.

Some Catholics crossed themselves in front of the remains, and women of all ages in black veils curtsied as they stopped for a few seconds to bid a personal farewell to one of the most-loved pontiffs in history.

The pope’s body was on display until 2 a.m. today when the basilica was closed for three hours before the procession of mourners from around the world was to start streaming past the body again.

The sad but expectant crowd began congregating in front of the basilica at noon yesterday. By midnight, police said the line was two miles long.

Those waiting next to St. Peter’s Square broke into applause — a sign of respect for the dead in Italy — when 12 pallbearers, flanked by Swiss Guards in red-plumed helmets, carried the body on the crimson litter through the bronze door of the Apostolic Palace into the vast piazza.

“Walking towards him in that church, so big, so grandiose, was like walking into heaven towards a saint,” Sister Maximina Semita, a Mexican nun who happened to be on pilgrimage in Rome when the pope died, told Reuters news agency. She had waited eight hours.

“I felt many emotions, sadness at our loss and joy that he is in heaven. The experience has strengthened my vocation,” she said.

The College of Cardinals at a meeting attended by 65 of the “princes of the church” yesterday decided to hold the papal funeral Friday.

President Bush and dozens of other heads of state and government are expected to attend, as well as royalty, including Britain’s Prince Charles, who postponed his wedding day to Camilla Parker Bowles, which was also scheduled for Friday.

Many press reports described the procession carrying the pope’s body to the basilica as his last earthly journey, but speculation persisted as to whether his heart at least might be buried alongside Polish kings and saints in the city of Krakow, where the pontiff was archbishop.

There was intermittent speculation in the past that the pope may have left instructions to be buried in his Polish homeland, but a Vatican spokesman said John Paul “did not show any such wish.”

The spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said John Paul would “almost surely” be buried in the tomb where Pope John XXIII lay before he was brought up onto the main floor of the basilica.

John XXIII was moved after his 2000 beatification because so many pilgrims wanted to visit his tomb, and the grotto is in a cramped underground space.

Meanwhile, Cuba announced three days of national mourning beginning Sunday, and Hungary will hold a national day of mourning on Friday.

But in Ireland, an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern stirred arguments by refusing to do the same.

In Rome, more than 6,000 extra police, including snipers, bomb-disposal experts and motorcycle escorts, were deployed to protect the crowds of faithful and world leaders converging on the Vatican.

About 1,500 officers will be assigned to the hundreds of the foreign dignitaries expected to attend Friday’s funeral. The Interior Ministry said it has enough armored cars to protect those who need them.

Despite the large number of uniformed police around St. Peter’s Square and in the tourist areas of Rome yesterday, there was no imposing presence of riot squads or police helicopters. If snipers were on rooftops, they were out of view of people in the square.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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