Saturday, April 09, 2005

World says Farewell to John Paul at emotional funeral

Gibraltar was represented at The Vatican by Chief Minister Peter Caruana as he joined pilgrims, presidents, prime ministers, kings and prelates in St Peter’s Square yesterday to bid an emotional farewell to Pope John Paul.

"It was a wonderful moving ceremony and a great send-off for a great pope. The atmosphere was very emotive and people were anxious to express their thanks for the life and work of a very great man," said Mr Caruana speaking from Rome last night.

The funeral service drew millions to Rome for the largest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times.

Applause rang out in the wind-whipped square as John Paul’s simple wooden coffin adorned only 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 by white-gloved pallbearers for burial in the crypt under the basilica.

The Vatican announced that the burial, attended by prelates and members of the papal household, took place near the tomb traditionally believed to be of the apostle Peter, the first pope.

The funeral service began with the Gregorian chant Grant him Eternal rest O Lord.

Cardinals wearing white mitres processed onto the square, the wind rippling their red vestments and the pages of the book of the Gospel, which was placed on the cypress 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 one 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. He said John Paul, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, 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" or “Saint John Paul," from the crowd, right before the Litany of Saints chant, in which saints are named.

Once in the crypt, the coffin was definitively closed with red bands and both papal and Vatican seals. It was placed in a second casket of zinc, and then within a third of walnut. This outside casket bears the name of the pope, his cross and his papal coat of arms.

The service was not open to the public, but was witnessed by top Vatican prelates. The Camerlengo, or chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, performed the rite, concluding with the words:

“Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him."

Before the Mass began, American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted black-clad dignitaries from more than 100 countries 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.
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 Bush and including his father, former President George Bush and former President Bill Clinton. President Bush and his wife, Laura, sat next to French President Jacques Chirac and his wife. Already in the Square were the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who defied an EU travel ban, was seated near Charles.

Rome itself was at a standstill and traffic was banned from 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 attending the funeral. Dignitaries from more than 100 countries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders, also were attending.

Warships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City.

The Pope’s death evinced a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world and brought an estimated four 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 many of them adorned with black ribbons of mourning. Banners read “Santo Subito," or “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.

In the country of John Paul’s birth, 800,000 people gathered in a vast field in Krakow to watch the funeral on a series of large television screens, and in Warsaw, sirens wailed for three minutes to announce the start of the funeral.

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 a metal cylinder in his coffin.

The scroll said his “love for the young" inspired him to begin World Youth Days. The account traces his life from his birth in Poland through his election as pope and mentions some highlights of his papacy, including his efforts to reach out to Jews and other non-Catholics and his travels with a “tireless missionary spirit."

John Paul’s long-time 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.

On the eve of the funeral, the Vatican released John Paul’s last will and testament, written in Polish over 22 years beginning five months after his election in October 1978.

In it, John Paul said he wanted to be buried “in the bare earth" and have prayers and Masses celebrated after his death. He instructed his private secretary to burn his personal notes. He also suggested he considered resigning in 2000, when his infirmities were already apparent. Revising his will just three days before a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, John Paul prayed that God would “help me to recognise up to what point I must continue this service."

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