Late on Thursday night the doors to the Basilica in Rome were closed off, ending four days of visits from the public to the body of Pope John Paul II. Up to 2 million have viewed the body since it was laid out for the public to pay their respects on Monday.
On the morning of April 8, 2005 at Saint Peter’s Square, approximately 4 million pilgrims and four kings, five queens, and at least 70 Prime Ministers and Presidents traveled from around the world to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who is one of the most admired religious leaders in history.
As the pope’s body was carried in a plain wooden coffin and taken to the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, where the Pontiff was elected as Pope 26 years ago to led the 1 billion Roman Catholic believers more than a quarter of a century, applause rang out. The book of the gospel was placed on the coffin and the wind lifted the pages.
The mass began with Vatican Choir singing “Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord.” Cardinals wearing white miters walked onto the square, their red vestments blowing in the breeze.
Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger, a close confidant of John Paul, delivered the homily bidding farewell to “late beloved Pope.” “Today we bury his remains in the earth as of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude,” he said in a heavily accented Italian accent. Crowds broke into applause interrupting his speech several times.
The strong affection elicited an outpouring of affection. Not only did the Rome’s population doubled, the world leaders who opposed one another in major issues set aside those differences and mourned for the passing of their role model of peace. President Bush sat next to his wife and beside him where French President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette. The two presidents, who were divided on the US -led war in Iraq, shook hands.
However, the gathering also sparked some tension. While Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-Bien also attended the funeral procession despite the staunch opposition of China authorities, who accuses him of attending the event as a rare chance to meet the international leaders with the motive of secessionist activities, China expressed “strong dissatisfaction” towards Italy for providing the visa for Chen Shui-Bien, according to AP.
Around Rome up to 2 million people are watching the event live on giant TV screens, and pictures are being broadcast to global audience which could potentially reach into the billions.
Previously the Pope’s body was prepared for the funeral and enclosed in a plain cypress coffin in an hour-long ritual, which began with a prayer by Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, "Dear brothers and sisters. We are here to carry out some acts of human pity before the funeral mass of the Roman Pontiff, Pope John Paul."
After, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s long-serving private secretary and the Master of Ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini placed a white silk veil on John Paul’ face.
After the 2 ½ hour mass, the body will be placed into two further coffins and then carried deep down to the alcove under the basilicas, where it will join the remains of the popes throughout the ages near the traditional tomb of Apostle Peter, the first pope.