A Huge Throng Gives Waves of Applause to a Beloved Pope

By IAN FISHER and DAVID RAMPE

New York Times

April 8, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 8 - Applause rang out from a huge crowd this morning at the end of the funeral of John Paul II, the little-known Polish cardinal chosen as pope in 1978.

After a Mass that lasted about two-and-a-half hours, his plain cypress coffin marked with a cross and an "M" for the Virgin Mary was brought out from St. Peter's Basilica and placed before an altar in St. Peter's Square. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and the wind lifted the pages.

The bells of St. Peter's tolled and 12 pallbearers with white gloves, white ties and tails then carried the coffin on their shoulders back inside for burial, after holding the coffin to face the multitude for a prolonged moment, as the great bell of St. Peter's pealed, and waves of applause swept through the audience.

The pallbearers finally turned again and entered the church, as the crowd held on, mesmerized. The bell tolled on and on, and at last people chatted with their neighbors and began to move away, many of them weeping.

This afternoon John Paul was buried in the grotto under the basilica, attended by prelates and members of the papal household, the Vatican said.

The funeral began this morning in St. Peter's Square before a somber throng of national and religious leaders and pilgrims from around the world.

As choirs sang, a simple wooden coffin was carried by pallbearers in formal dress to a spot before the outdoor altar. The procession was greeted by applause. The coffin was placed on a large ornate rug and a liturgical text was placed on it and opened. At the side of the coffin was a statue of Jesus on the cross bleeding from his thorns.

Moments later the cardinals of the church, brilliant in red under the spring sun, streamed into the square from St. Peter's Basilica and filed to their seats as great numbers in the crowd stood watching at full attention. A scene of the resurrection hung from the great doorway of St. Peter's.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, dean of the college of cardinals, who delivered the sermon, spoke first after crossing himself. He sang in Latin from a holy book held up by an assistant and read the confession of sins that begins the Catholic Mass.

"Any nationality who fears God and does right is acceptable to him," the first reading said, from the Acts of the Apostles. It went on to recall the biblical teaching that God raised Jesus from the dead to be witnessed by Christian followers. "This is the word of the Lord."

A letter from Paul was read in English by a lay reader in a business suit. The choir then reverted to Latin for an Alleluia.

Some 35 minutes after the funeral began, a young priest in red vestments sang the gospel in Latin. Deep in the throng, flags both national and religious swayed in the breeze.

Then Cardinal Ratzinger began his homily. He read from typewritten pages and spoke into a microphone. He cited the gospel's message: "Feed my sheep," which he said typified the message of John Paul. Applause greeted his remarks. He greeted leaders of other religions, Christian and non-Christian, and the young people "whom John Paul liked to describe as the future and the hope of the church." He continued with personal details of the life of the pope, his love of literature, his work at a chemical plant during the period of Nazi terror, and his ordination.

"He was a priest right to the very end," when he faced the trials of ill health, Cardinal Ratzinger said, describing the pope in highly personal terms. He quoted from the pope's books, described his sufferings, up to "extreme" suffering at the end of his life, citing the moment the pope blessed well-wishers from his apartments above St. Peter's Square in the final days of his life. The cardinal also mentioned the early death of John Paul's mother, and throughout the sermon intermingled the pope's biography with fundamental Christian teachings, along a theme of suffering.

Particularly in his strenuous days, in the early years of his 26-year papacy, the pope repeatedly traveled the world, both for Catholics and all the nations, Cardinal Ratzinger said, describing the Biblical phrase, "Rise and go" as a motto of the pope. "He went to the ends of the earth," the cardinal said.

Later a stream of young men and women lay readers, of many nationalities and colors, gave short readings.

The end of the funeral was poignant.

After the cardinals recessed into the church, the 12 pallbearers went to the coffin and lifted it up the steps. Then, carefully turning around, they held the coffin to face the multitude for a prolonged moment, as the great bell of St. Peter's pealed, and waves of applause swept through the audience.

The pallbearers finally turned again and entered the church, as the crowd held on, mesmerized. The bell tolled on and on, and at last people chatted with their neighbors and began to move away, many of them weeping.

Nearly every free inch of Vatican City was covered by John Paul's admirers, the important and ordinary alike in the millions. Many pilgrims slept outdoors to have a place at the funeral.

It was the biggest funeral for a pope in the nearly 2,000-year history of the office, and perhaps one of the broadest meetings of leaders from all the world's major religions.

After five days of lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica to an extraordinary two million viewers, his body was sprinkled, by centuries of tradition, with holy water and his face covered with a white veil. He was sealed in a cypress coffin, then laid at the top of the basilica steps, outside its big bronze doors, for the lengthy funeral mass in Latin under the sun of a bright Roman spring.

Dignitaries came from many of the countries the pope visited. In the second row, the first American president to attend a pope's funeral, George W. Bush, sat next to his wife, Laura. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Prince Charles, President Jacques Chirac of France, Mohammad Khatami of Iran and President Moshe Katsav of Israel all attended, along with kings and queens, as well as General Secretary Kofi Annan of the United Nations.

Around the coffin sat rows of cardinals in bright red vestments - one of whom is almost certain to become the next pope.

And on the streets, the massive pilgrimage that has swamped Rome since John Paul died last Saturday, at age 84, continued in force.

In his last testament, made public on Thursday, John Paul requested that he be buried in the earth, not interred above ground.