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World Mourns Pope as Pilgrims Gather in Homage

Reuters | April 3, 2005

Pope John Paul's body was displayed to the world Sunday and his words echoed across St. Peter's Square as faithful mourned the Pole who helped topple Communism in Europe but left a divided Church.

Streams of pilgrims converged on Rome in a spontaneous outpouring of affection for the Pontiff, who died Saturday evening aged 84 in his Vatican bed after an extended struggle with ill health that slowly sapped his strength.

"He died with the serenity of the saints," Cardinal Angelo Sodano told a huge crowd assembled for a somber Requiem Mass.

The Pope's corpse, clad in crimson and white vestments, was put on view for the world by Vatican TV. He lay on a bier under a simple crucifix with his bishop's staff under his arm.

Some 130,000 worshippers gathered at St. Peter's Square to hear the Pope's own words read out at the mass for the world's best known religious leader, who wielded political influence but failed in the eyes of critics to reform the Church.

"It is love which converts hearts and gives peace," said the text, which was prepared for the Sunday after Easter and was read out by an archbishop.

His body is expected to be transferred to St. Peter's Basilica at 5.00 p.m. (1500 GMT) Monday for public viewing and his funeral is set for later in the week, possibly Friday.

Cardinals will meet Monday morning to fix the timetable, with more than 100 world leaders expected to attend the funeral, including President Bush.

News of his death has already set off one of the greatest influxes of pilgrims in Rome's memory -- fitting tribute to a traveler who journeyed the equivalent of 30 times the circumference of the earth and spent a lifetime meeting people.

"He has called us and we have come," said Giuseppe Incarnati, who rushed to the tiny Vatican City from Naples to be close to the deceased Pope.

SUCCESSOR

Within 15 to 20 days following the death, the 117 cardinals aged under 80 will meet behind closed doors in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel to decide a successor. When they elect the next pope, white smoke will pour from the chapel's chimney.

World leaders hailed John Paul as a force for peace during his 26-year papacy, while others credited him with a major role in the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Cardinal Sodano, one of his potential successors, called him John Paul the Great, joining others who have suggested he become only the third pope in two millennia to have such a title.

But liberal Catholics criticized his proclamations against contraception, abortion, married priests and women clergy.

"His pontificate was full of contradictions," said the 'We Are Church' Catholic reform movement. "The direction in which he took the church internally was very distressing for those who had hopes for real reform."

But in his native Poland, dissenting voices were hard to hear amidst scenes of nationwide mourning.

More than 100,000 worshippers packed the central square in the capital Warsaw, while 60,000 gathered in Krakow, where Wojtyla was archbishop from 1964 until he became Pope in 1978, to hear John Paul's last message to his homeland.

"I wish to once again entrust the Church, the world, all people around the globe, and myself in this moment of weakness to this (Divine) love," said the message, written on March 31.

HEART FAILURE

The Vatican said in a statement Sunday that John Paul had died of heart failure and septic shock -- when an overwhelming infection leads to low blood pressure and blood flow which can stop vital organs.

In St. Peter's Square, tearful worshippers sang Gregorian chants in the open-air mass presided over by Sodano and another potential successor, or "papabile" -- German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

From Brazil to the Philippines, South Africa to Germany, Roman Catholics prayed and mourned. Many countries decreed periods of national mourning.

On Indonesia's Nias island, survivors of last week's huge earthquake gathered outdoors Sunday for their first mass since the tremor to commemorate the Pope.

Chinese Catholics, forbidden by their Communist rulers from recognizing the Holy See, sent a commemorative telegram.

Even Afghanistan's puritanical Islamist Taliban movement said some of what the Pope had said was "worth considering."

"ONE LAST TIME"

Bracing for up to 2 million pilgrims, Rome raced to provide extra trains, fresh water and thousands of beds.

Authorities planned to erect giant screens across the city for pilgrims to follow celebrations, and the Ancient Roman Circus Maximus -- once used for chariot races -- was designated a gathering point for the masses.

The city planned to open two stadiums for pilgrims with sleeping bags and set up food and water points.

Rome, which through the centuries has often had strained ties with the Vatican, put up posters with a picture of John Paul that said: "Thank you. Rome weeps and salutes its Pope."

Red-hatted princes of the Catholic Church also began arriving in Rome, facing a difficult and momentous decision in who should succeed John Paul.

There was no favorite candidate and possible choices could come from any region of the world.

Apart from his battle against communism and quest for global peace, John Paul will be remembered for his unswerving defense of traditional Vatican doctrines on priesthood and sex.

Some Catholics hope the next Pope will be more liberal.

One potential successor, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, said the next pope would face huge ethical challenges as developments in science, technology and culture raise questions over the Church's role in modern society.

But John Paul appointed all but two of the cardinals who will elect his successor, thus stacking the odds that his controversial teachings will not be tampered with.


John Paul II's Death Draws Crowd of 100,000 to St. Peter's

Bloomberg | April 3, 2005

Thousands of Roman Catholics, some gripping rosary beads and many waving national flags, jammed St. Peter's Square on Sunday to commemorate Pope John Paul II, who died yesterday at the Vatican after leading the church 26 years.

An estimated 100,000 people attended the mass celebrated on the steps of the entrance to St. Peter's basilica by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state. The mass started at 10:30 a.m. under scattered clouds in Rome.

``He died peacefully,'' Sodano told the crowd that included tens of thousands of youths. Many of them held lighted red candles. Several waved pictures of the pontiff. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and members of his cabinet attended the mass. The crowd spilled onto Via della Conciliazione, the wide avenue that leads to St. Peter's square.

Pope John Paul II, who traveled the globe for more than two decades spreading his message of peace, tolerance and reconciliation died at 9:37 p.m. Rome time Saturday. He was 84. The spiritual leader of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics, Pope John Paul was in the 26th year of his papacy.

Human Rights

Polish-born Karol Jozef Wojtyla was the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI more than 450 years ago and the third- longest-serving pope, surpassed only by Pius IX in the 19th century and St. Peter.

``We will always remember the humble, wise and fearless priest who became one of history's great moral leaders,'' U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement at the White House. American flags were lowered to half-staff in a sign of mourning.

John Paul made human rights a major part of his papacy, especially in his homeland, where he supported the Solidarity movement, a key reason for the downfall of communism there. He used his papacy to reach out to all faiths, including other branches of Catholicism and helped spread his religion, particularly in the developing world.

``He was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self- evaluation by the Church itself,'' said United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The pope's body will be taken to the Vatican for public viewing no sooner than Monday afternoon, the Vatican said yesterday. The College of Cardinals, whose members will choose the next pope, will hold their first meeting Monday to start preparations for the election process known as the conclave.

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