New York Times
April 7, 2005
VATICAN CITY, April 7 -- Italian officials reopened the line to view the body of John Paul II this morning, then closed it down again later today as they tried to manage the many thousands of people who were waiting to pay tribute to the late pope on the last day before his funeral on Friday.
Vatican officials said in this city of three million, more than one million people had seen the pope's body since it went on public display on Monday. They apparently were opening and closing the line as necessary to keep the huge crowd under control and avoid dangerous conditions.
On Wednesday, safety officials, concerned with the size of the crowd and recognizing the wait to see the body would exceed 24 hours, sent warnings on the radio and through text messages to cellphones advising people to stay away. Eventually they decided to close the line to newcomers.
On a day when cardinals announced they would begin selecting a new pope on April 18, foreign dignitaries began arriving to pay their respects and attend the funeral on Friday.
President Bush arrived Wednesday evening, going directly to St. Peter's Basilica with the American delegation to view the body. Walking into the basilica, clasping the hand of his wife, Laura, who wore a black mantilla, he knelt before the body beside his father, former President Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the president's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.
The line had grown so big that it split in two - one curving through the narrow streets near the Vatican and a second along the Tiber River - amid much strain and a striking mix of the spiritual and the physical: there were songs and prayers and remarkable patience, as well as fatigue, sunburn and a bit of borderline bad behavior.
"They have called me mean; they say I have no pity," said Mariana Santoliquido, 27, who works in a cafe about the point where people had been waiting in line for 10 hours. She was yelled at because the cafe had stopped letting pilgrims use the bathroom, though she said many used it a day earlier, before the toilet had been ripped off the floor.
The abuse was so bad, she said, the cafe hired a guard.
"The ugly thing about all this is that the nature of the crowd is so different from what they are here for," she said.
But with a handful of exceptions, the crowd was calm in what is turning out to be a weeklong celebration of the life of John Paul that is clearly pleasing church officials - even if it has raised questions about whether the church can sustain such fervent enthusiasm under the next pope.
"Splendid!" one of the most powerful cardinals, Renato Martino, exclaimed as he walked in his regal red vestments through the crowds just outside the basilica and browsed a stand selling inexpensive John Paul II cards and rosaries.
Down the street, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America, who arrived in Rome from New York on Wednesday, said the numbers showed a level of personal affection for John Paul - here in Italy and around the world - that many people did not fully grasp before his death on Saturday.
"The numbers are extraordinary," said Father Reese, whose Jesuit-run magazine has published articles airing criticism of church policy. "I had heard about the numbers, but coming here and seeing it is overwhelming. And it's just getting bigger."
As the Vatican prepared for the elaborate funeral Mass on Friday, cardinals met for the third day since the pope's death and settled the first important detail in the selection of a successor.
Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the chief Vatican spokesman, said the election of the new pope - called a conclave - would begin at 10 a.m. April 18, after a Mass. There are 117 so-called elector cardinals, those under 80 years of age, and they will meet twice a day in secrecy, cut off from the world, until they choose a new pope.
Meantime, the number of cardinals of all ages arriving in Rome continued to rise; 116 cardinals were at the meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Navarro-Valls said.
He announced, too, that on Thursday the Vatican would release the pope's last testament - a sort of spiritual will of reflections 15 pages long that he began writing in 1979, the year after he was chosen pope, and added to over the years.
Dr. Navarro-Valls also announced that, in the testament, the pope did not reveal the name of a cardinal he appointed in 2003 "in pectore," or "close to the heart" - meaning that the identity of the cardinal is likely never to be known. Such a secret naming is usually done for cardinals in countries where Catholics face oppression.
"This is a question that will not present itself again," Dr. Navarro-Valls said.
Each day since the pope's death, the crowds have grown by bounds, though they have consisted mostly of Italians, tourists already in Italy, and some from Poland, the pope's home country. But on Wednesday, people began flowing in from the outside.
It took nine hours for Julie and Christy Krommer, sisters from Cincinnati, to fly here, and they were likely to wait in line to see the body of the pope even longer than that.
"Because of everything John Paul did for us, any amount of waiting is fine," said Julie Krommer, 23, a mechanical engineer who arrived in Rome at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Richard Cardmoody, 25, arrived from London on Wednesday morning on a plane that he said had been filled mostly with people coming just to see the body. He was here mostly as a companion to his mother, Patricia, 51, who wanted to come very much.
"My feet ache," he said after three hours in line, and what looked like at least another five or six to go. "I'll get there."
Patricia and Richard Haber, grandparents from Montreal, arrived Monday, well aware that they might spend less than 30 seconds viewing the body after eight hours on a plane and perhaps much longer in line.
"He was a great man," Mrs. Haber said, explaining her devotion. "I don't think you are going to see another man as great."
Her husband, Dr. Haber, who wore a crucifix around his neck, agreed but admitted to some disorientation fresh off the plane, near the end of a line along the Tiber at least half a mile from the pope's body.
"I've never been to Rome," he said. "I don't even know where St. Peter's is from here."
Piotr Wojciechowski, 43, a lawyer, came from Warsaw with his wife and two young daughters. After three hours in a line that moved little, he admitted he was tired already.
"It's hard to wait here for so much time," he said. "But we have to. We want to see the Holy Father."
At the same time, city officials were bracing for the still greater logistical challenge of the funeral, to be followed immediately by the pope's burial in the grottoes below the basilica. Car traffic will be banned downtown, and public offices will be shut. Aircraft will be banned over the city. Some 25 giant television screens will be erected around the city so people can watch outside together. Dr. Navarro-Valls said 3,500 journalists had been accredited to cover the funeral - a logistical challenge on its own.
At Termini, the main train station in Rome, the number of people arriving Wednesday was more than double the usual - 1.5 million people compared with 600,000 normally. One security official, who asked that his name not be used, said he had slept little in the last three days, and was looking forward to Saturday or Sunday, when things would get back to normal in Rome.
"At least until they name the new pope," he said.
Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting for this article.