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Tens of Thousands Honor John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square

An estimated 100,000 people turned out at St. Peter's Square for a Eucharistic concelebration for the repose of the soul of John Paul II, who died Saturday evening.
( [email protected] ) Apr 05, 2005 10:19 AM EDT

As millions prayed and wept at services across the globe Sunday, an estimated 100,000 people turned out at St. Peter's Square for a Eucharistic concelebration for the repose of the soul of John Paul II, who died Saturday evening.

Around the world, bells tolled and worshippers prayed in remembrance of the man who served as the spiritual leader for the world’s Roman Catholics for longer than all but two of his predecessors and was credited with helping bring down communism in Europe and spreading a message of peace during his frequent travels around the world.

After his 26-year papacy, Karol Joseph Wojtyla died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday in his apartment of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse, the Vatican said.

Early Sunday, a text message circulated on cell phones in Rome, asking people to light candles in their windows. "May they light up the road to God for him, the way he did for us," the message said, as reported by the Associated Press.

In the homily at Sunday's Mass at St. Peter's, the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, spoke of the pain over the loss of “our father and pastor, John Paul II,” but emphasized that for 26 years, the pontiff had “always called us to look to Christ, the only reason for our hope.”

"For more than a quarter of a century he has taken the Gospel of Christian hope to all the squares of the world, teaching everyone that our death is nothing more than a passage to our homeland in heaven,” Sodano stated. “There our eternal destiny lies, where God our Father awaits us."

The cardinal indicated how “this is our faith. This is the faith of Christians. Our pain is immediately transformed into an attitude of profound serenity.”

“I too was a witness to such serenity […] the serenity of the saints, the serenity that comes from God," said Sodano, as he recalled standing in prayer before the Pope's bed in his final moments.

"As today we weep for the death of the Pope who has left us, we open our hearts to the vision of our eternal destiny,” he continued. “We know that, though we are sinners, we are accompanied by the mercy of God the Father who awaits us. This is the sense of today's Feast of Divine Mercy, established by the dear departed Pope John Paul II himself, as one of the legacies of his pontificate, to underline this most consoling aspect of the Christian mystery."

Sodano highlighted the many times the Pope has repeated over the years "that mutual relations between men and between peoples cannot be based only on justice, but must be perfected by merciful love which is typical of the Christian message.”

For this reason, the cardinal said, “John Paul II led the Church of the third Christian millennium to be a new Good Samaritan on the paths of the world, on the roads of a world still shaken by fratricidal wars.”

In this way, the Pope became “the cantor of the civilization of love, seeing in that term one of the most beautiful definitions of 'Christian civilization,’” Sodano added. “Yes, Christian civilization is the civilization of love, radically different from those civilizations of hatred which, in the 20th century, were the consequence of so many ideologies."

The cardinal hoped for the Pope’s message to “always remain engraved in the hearts of the men and women of today.”

“John Paul II repeats once more the words of Christ: 'the Son of Man came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him',” Sodano stated.

Sodano also recalled that the beloved pontiff had "spread this Gospel of hope in the world, calling all the Church to embrace the men and women of today, to raise them up with redeeming love.”

“Let it be our task to take up the message of he who has left us and bring it to fruit for the salvation of the world," he said before concluding in prayer.

After the Mass ended, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who became the pope's public "voice" in the final weeks of his life, read the traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which John Paul delivered throughout his pontificate.

The crowd applauded, and some fought back tears, when Sandri announced that the late pope prepared the prayer himself before he died — perhaps one of John Paul's last written documents.

Once the Mass ended, cardinals, prelates, Italian government officials and diplomats gathered in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, where John Paul's body lay in state.