Pope makes final journey from palace - Pilgrim flood for funeral

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 5.04.05

Vatican City, April 4 (Reuters): Pall bearers, cardinals and monks took Pope John Paul on one last trip from his palace today, escorting his body to St Peter?s Basilica, the church that was his for 26 years and will be his burial place.

The bier carrying the Pope who had travelled the world began its short journey in the Vatican?s Apostolic Palace where he lived and ended it in the largest church in Christendom, where he will be buried after a funeral that cardinals set for Friday. A bier is a platform on which a coffin or corpse is placed before burial.

In a solemn ceremony shown on television, a procession of red-robed churchmen and suited ushers snaked its way slowly through frescoed hallways, down marble stairways and into St Peter?s Square, packed with tens of thousands of faithful.

As the Polish Pope?s fully robed body, the hands clasped across the chest, emerged into the sunlit square, crowds waiting to file past it applauded in a traditional Italian sign of respect for the dead.

On the threshold of the basilica, the 12 ushers who had been carrying the body feet first, turned it around for a minute so the Pope could face the square where he had presided over thousands of general audiences and Masses for a last time.

Roman Catholic cardinals, meeting for the first time since the Pope?s death two days ago, decided to hold his funeral service on Friday. It is expected to draw the greatest tide of pilgrims and heads of state to the Vatican in its history. Over the coming days, Pope John Paul?s body will lie in state inside the 16th century basilica.

Hours before public viewing was due to start, police estimated that more than 100,000 people were lined up on the broad boulevard leading from the Tiber river to the basilica.

?For me he was another Christ. He truly lived the life of Jesus. He showed us how to live, how to suffer, how to love and even how to die,? said Sister Simone from Austria, standing with fellow nuns from Mother Teresa?s order.

Asked if she was daunted by the long wait, she said: ?He sacrificed his whole life for the Church so a few hours mean nothing.?

The Pope?s body, clad in crimson and white vestments, was carried on a red velvet litter and flanked by Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniform. It was placed on a spot in the basilica just before the tomb of St Peter, the first Pope.

Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the chamberlain of the Vatican, performed a ritual blessing of the body with holy water and incense as a choir chanted in Latin.

?May you grant him eternal rest, Lord, and shine your light on him for all eternity,? Martinez Somalo said.

Cardinals, one of whom could emerge from a conclave later this month as the next pope, sat in the front rows, many of them clutching their hands in prayer. The elaborate funeral rite will start at 0800 GMT on Friday. President George W. Bush will be among some 200 world leaders to attend.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that after the funeral, the Pope would be buried under the basilica, as is customary for deceased pontiffs.

News of the Pope?s death brought the princes of the church rushing to Rome, and 65 arrived in time for today?s meeting.

In all, 117 cardinals will be eligible to attend the conclave to elect a new Pope.