Police in Rome reopened the line to St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday, giving pilgrims a final chance to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II before his funeral on Friday.
Authorities had closed the line Wednesday evening as officials rushed to make preparations for John Paul’s funeral, which was drawing leaders from more than 100 countries.
"Anyone who arrives between tonight and tomorrow will have no chance" of seeing the body, he said in a statement issued as pilgrims continued to flood in by planeloads and by train and bus from all over Europe and beyond,” a statement released by officials read.
Also on Wednesday, dignitaries from the United States, including US President George W. Bush, his wife Laura, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and past presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Senior, arrived in the city to pay their respects. Bush is the first US President to attend a papal funeral.
According to the Associated Press, Helicopters clattered overhead and police cars raced through the streets as Bush made his way to St Peter’s, where he knelt in prayer for more than three minutes before the pope’s body.
Meanwhile some tourists and pilgrims shunned the Italian government for shutting down the line to view the late pope’s body, saying everyone should have a right to pay their respects.
"Shame on Italy," cried Antonio Fabri, the Italian tour operator who had accompanied them from Poland, to AP.
"They should have warned us sooner,” he said. "We took the train to come here. We have the right to see him too, like Bush and all the others."
By Thursday morning, however, officials re-opened the line because it was moving quicker – the wait would be several hours, not tens of hours. But many who had waited through Wednesday had already given up and left.
Basilica doors are to remain open until 10 p.m. Thursday.
Later Thursday, the Vatican was to release the last text of John Paul’s spiritual testament, which was written beginning the year after his 1978 election as pope.
The Vatican also released the series of Masses that will be celebrated during the nine days of mourning that begin on Friday with the pope's funeral.