Pope's body laid out in Vatican

REUTERS

April 3, 2005

By Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul's body has been laid in view of the world and his words echoed across St. Peter's Square as faithful mourned the Pole who helped topple Communism in Europe but left a riven Church.

Streams of pilgrims converged on Rome in a spontaneous outpouring of affection for the Pontiff, who died on Saturday evening aged 84 in his Vatican bed after an extended struggle with ill health that slowly sapped his strength.

"He died with the serenity of the saints," Cardinal Angelo Sodano told a huge crowd assembled for a sombre Requiem Mass on Sunday.

The Pope's corpse, clad in crimson and white vestments, was put on view for the world by Vatican TV. He lay on a bier under a simple crucifix with his bishop's staff under his arm.

Some 130,000 worshippers gathered at St. Peter's Square to hear the Pope's own words read out at the mass for the world's best known religious leader, who wielded political influence but failed in the eyes of critics to reform the Church.

John Paul's words resonated through the square when an archbishop read his text prepared for the Sunday after Easter.

"It is love which converts hearts and gives peace," the text said. Another message from the Pope was read out to 60,000 worshippers in Krakow, Poland, where Karol Wojtyla was archbishop before being elected pope in 1978.

News of his death set off one of the greatest influxes of pilgrims in Rome's memory -- fitting tribute to a traveller who spent a lifetime meeting people around the globe.

"He has called us and we have come," said Giuseppe Incarnati, who rushed to the tiny Vatican City from Naples to be close to the deceased Pope who transformed the papacy by taking his message of reconciliation to all corners of the globe.

ANCIENT RITUALS

The Pope's death was announced to the press via an SMS text message sent out minutes after he expired -- a symbol of how John Paul opened the papacy to the world outside the Vatican.

His death set in motion elaborate rituals that end one papacy and start the next, and which could last up to a month.

His body will be shifted to St. Peter's Basilica on Monday for public viewing and will lie in state until his funeral, probably between Wednesday and Friday, where some 200 foreign leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush are expected.

Within 15 to 20 days, the 117 cardinals from around the globe will go behind closed doors in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. When they elect the next pope, white smoke will pour from the chapel's chimney.

World leaders hailed John Paul as a force for peace across the globe during his 26-year papacy, while others credited him with a major role in the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Cardinal Sodano, one of his potential successors, called him John Paul the Great, joining others who have suggested he become only the third pope in two millennia to have such a title.

But liberal Catholics criticised his proclamations against contraception, abortion, married priests and women clergy.

"His pontificate was full of contradictions," said the 'We Are Church' Catholic reform movement. "The direction in which he took the church internally was very distressing for those who had hopes for real reform."

"PAPABILI"

As day broke over the Polish Pope's adopted twin cities -- Rome and Vatican City -- the flow of pilgrims from afar began arriving in a tribute to a Pontiff who travelled the equivalent of 30 times the circumference of the earth.

In St. Peter's Square, tearful worshippers sang Gregorian chants in the open-air mass presided over by Sodano and another potential successor, or "papabile" -- German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

From Brazil to the Philippines, South Africa to Germany, Roman Catholics prayed and mourned. Many countries decreed periods of national mourning.

On Indonesia's Nias island, survivors of last week's huge earthquake gathered outdoors on Sunday for their first mass since the tremor to commemorate the Pope.

Chinese Catholics, forbidden by their Communist rulers from recognising the Holy See, sent a commemorative telegram.

Even Afghanistan's puritanical Islamist Taliban movement said some of what the Pope had said was "worth considering".

"ONE LAST TIME"

Bracing for up to 2 million pilgrims, Rome raced to provide extra trains, fresh water and thousands of beds.

Authorities planned to erect giant screens across the city for pilgrims to follow celebrations, and the Ancient Roman Circus Maximus -- once used for chariot races -- was designated a gathering point for masses.

The city planned to open two stadiums for pilgrims with sleeping bags and set up food and water points.

Rome, which through the centuries has often had strained ties with the Vatican, put up posters with a picture of John Paul that said: "Thank you. Rome weeps and salutes its Pope."

Red-hatted princes of the Catholic Church began arriving in Rome for a meeting on Monday to decide the funeral details.

There was no favourite candidate to succeed John Paul, with possible choices coming from around the world.

Apart from his battle against communism and quest for global peace, John Paul will be remembered for his unswerving defence of traditional Vatican doctrines on priesthood and sex.

Some Catholics hope the next Pope will be more liberal.

One potential successor, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, said the next pope would face huge ethical challenges as developments in science, technology and culture raise questions over the Church's role in modern society.

But John Paul appointed all but two of the cardinals who will elect his successor, thus stacking the odds that his controversial teachings will not be tampered with.