- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The sea of pilgrims filing past Pope John Paul II’s body continued to swell yesterday as Italian authorities prepared to protect millions of people, three American presidents and at least 200 other dignitaries at Friday’s funeral. Attendance Friday is expected to exceed original estimates of 2 million, with Polish officials saying that many pilgrims could come from the pontiff’s homeland. The prefect of Rome, the representative of the central government responsible for law and order, Achille Serra, said Italy was coping with the influx. “Everything is going well both in terms of organization and of security,” he said. Airspace over the Eternal City center will be closed to all traffic including small aircraft starting tomorrow. The Italian air force has stepped up fighter-jet protection of the capital to guard against terrorist attacks. U.S.-made F-16 fighters will join in patrolling the skies above the Vatican, the defense ministry said. Hawk anti-aircraft missile-defense systems also are being set up around Rome while a NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft with radar-coverage range of 210 miles has been deployed by the Italian authorities, the ministry said. Guido Bertolaso, a special commissar appointed to head preparations for the funeral by a joint committee of Vatican and Italian officials, said there had been no major problems in the long lines of the faithful waiting to see the pope’s body. “The lines are really very long, but people are showing great patience in putting up with the long wait,” he said. As of yesterday, at least 1 million had viewed the pope’s body. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will be accompanied by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush at the funeral. “[We] will work closely with our counterparts in Rome and at the Vatican to provide a safe and secure environment,” said Tom Mazur, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service. Italian authorities have set up tent cities at the Vatican, with some predicting that Rome’s population of about 2.6 million could triple. The election of a new pope by the College of Cardinals will come in the days after the funeral, with a new tradition of ringing bells atop the Sistine Chapel to mark the event. The time-honored practice of marking the selection with plumes of white smoke from the chapel’s chimney will be observed, along with black smoke from burning ballots after an inconclusive vote. Observers at the selection of John Paul nearly 27 years ago had difficulty distinguishing the black smoke from the white. Bells would be rung when the cardinals are sufficiently moved by the Holy Spirit to choose the successor to John Paul, Archbishop Piero Marini said. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the College of Cardinals still has not decided the date for the conclave to choose John Paul’s successor. According to the apostolic Constitution, the conclave must occur between 15 and 20 days after the death of a pope. Mr. Navarro-Valls said 91 of the 183 cardinals were in Rome as of yesterday. Only 117 of them, those younger than 80, can vote in a conclave. The Brazilian cardinal, Geraldo Majella Agnelo, archbishop of Sao Salvador da Bahia, predicted the selection of the man who will sit on St. Peter’s throne will not be a drawn-out affair. “I don’t think it will be a long conclave,” he told Italian state-run radio RAI. In addition to protecting heads of state and royalty from around the world, officials have to cope with massive traffic jams and packed train stations and airports, while ensuring health services for mourners. Italy is not without experience in crowd control. An estimated 2 million people celebrated the millennium in Rome. • John Phillips contributed to this report from Vatican City, and Guy Taylor contributed in Washington.

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