Farewell unites poor, powerful

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 9.04.05

Vatican City, April 8 (Reuters): The poor and powerful joined in a final farewell to Pope John Paul today at a momentous Vatican funeral watched by hundreds of millions of people across the world he travelled in his lifetime.

Flags and banners, many from the Pope?s native Poland, bobbed in the ocean of humanity that stretched from St Peter?s Square for as far as the eye could see. ?Santo subito? (Make him a saint immediately), pilgrims chanted in Italian, holding up the open-air funeral Mass several times in an outpouring of emotion for a giant of the 20th century.

?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,? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the throng in the windswept square.

To the sound of choirs singing in Latin, the tolling of a giant bell and a seemingly endless wave of applause, 12 pall bearers carried away John Paul?s simple cypress-wood coffin from the steps of St Peter?s Basilica as the Mass ended. It was turned for one last time to face the square where the world?s third-longest serving pope had said thousands of Masses and was then taken down to the crypt below for burial, encased in two further caskets.

Millions of Catholics who could not get to Italy instead bid farewell to the Pope in myriad services around the globe. ?It is almost like being there in Rome,? said Georgina Vega, a primary school teacher, at a Mass in the Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico's holiest shrine.

But the funeral went well beyond Catholicism. It was watched in mainly Muslim Egypt, in Jewish Israel and even in Iran, where some ignored a ban on satellite dishes.

?For me, this is a tsunami of peace. To see so many people, all united with calm and charisma, it was very emotional. It?s a sign he was a saint,? said Margarita Ignacio, a Brazilian woman who was in St Peter?s for the funeral.

Among 2,500 dignitaries of all faiths and races who attended were President George W. Bush, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Prince Charles and various West Asia leaders.

But Beata Bilyk, an 18-year-old pilgrim from Poland, spoke for an entire nation: ?Our whole world will be different now. I don?t know what we will do without him to lead us.? In Poland itself, cannon roared, sirens wailed and church bells tolled for the funeral of their greatest native son, born Karol Wojtyla near the city of Krakow 84 years ago.

The first non-Italian pope in 455 years died last Saturday after a decade of suffering and sickness, unleashing an outpouring of grief within the Roman Catholic Church and beyond.

Mugabe gesture

Prince Charles shook hands today with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe ? a leader so shunned by the EU that it has banned him from the region.

?The Prince of Wales was caught by surprise and wasn?t in a position to avoid shaking Mr Mugabe?s hand,? a spokeswoman for the prince said.