Pope John Paul II's Funeral Set for Friday

Pope John Paul II, 1920 - 2005
Pope John Paul II, 1920 - 2005

by Victor L. Simpson, Associated Press Writer

Pope John Paul II's funeral will be held Friday morning, and his remains will be interred in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica where pontiffs throughout the ages have been laid to rest, the Vatican said Monday.

Chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls made the announcement after the College of Cardinals held two meetings over the course of 2 1/2 hours in its first gatherings since the pope's death and ahead of a secret vote later this month to elect a successor to John Paul.

Navarro-Valls said John Paul would "almost surely" be buried in the tomb where Pope John XXIII lay before he was brought up onto the main floor of the Basilica.

That pope, who died in 1963, was moved after his 2000 beatification because so many pilgrims wanted to visit his tomb, and the grotto is in a cramped underground space.

In the first meeting, the cardinals took an oath of secrecy. In the second one, they made their decisions on the funeral rites, Navarro-Valls said. There were 65 cardinals attending.

John Paul will be buried immediately after the funeral, he said.

Archbishop Josef Clemens, secretary of the Vatican office for lay people and a former aide to top Vatican cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said not all the cardinal electors had arrived inRome in time to attend Monday's first session.

Asked about the atmosphere among the cardinals, he said: "Sad, but hopeful."

There had been speculation that the pope might have left orders to be buried in his native Poland, but Navarro-Valls said John Paul "did not show any such wish."

Poles have hoped that the pope's heart may be placed in Wavel Cathedral in Krakow, where Polish saints and royalty are buried. Asked if this was ruled out by burial in St. Peter's, Navarro-Valls did not directly reply, saying he was merely transmitting information on decisions taken by the cardinals Monday morning.

Under Vatican tradition, Friday is the latest the funeral could have been held. Up to 2 million pilgrims are expected to converge on Rome for the 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) service.

"It will a moment without precedent," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said in an interview with Repubblica Radio.

"Rome will grind to a halt to guarantee the full development of the demonstration of love for the pontificate, guaranteeing the maximum security for all the heads of state who will arrive to pay homage to the pope," he said.

Navarro-Valls said the Basilica would remain open overnight except for three hours for cleaning every night this week to accommodate the thousands of faithful.

The meeting at the Bologna Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace was the first gathering of the world's Roman Catholic cardinals since the pontiff's death. After taking an oath of secrecy, they were to open any final documents John Paul may have prepared for them.

There was no word on whether the cardinals had set a date for the papal election conclave to begin; by church law, it must take place within two weeks of the burial.

The body of John Paul emerges from an inner sanctum of the Vatican later Monday for the public to bid farewell. It was displayed Sunday for prelates, ambassadors and other dignitaries. Vatican employees filed silently past the body on Monday morning to pay their last respects.

The former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who had hosted John Paul during his historic visit to Rome's central synagogue in 1986, viewed the body Monday. He raised his arm before the body in a gesture of tribute. The current chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, viewed the body Sunday.

John Paul's body appeared to have been touched up or embalmed overnight.

Rome is bracing for a crush of mourners expected to pay tribute to the Polish-born prelate who reigned firmly over his flock for 26 years with unbending loyalty to its ancient precepts, resisting calls from modernizers for the church to adapt.

In St. Peter's Square, lamp posts were covered with impromptu memorials to John Paul, including flowers, icons, and handwritten messages and children's drawings pinned up with multicolored candle wax.

The Vatican's Swiss Guards, who normally wear gaily colored uniforms, were clad in black cloaks Monday as the official mourning period continued.

John Paul himself set an imposing agenda for the cardinals in instructions he drafted in 1996, including the reading of any final documents he may have left for them.

In addition, the cardinals were expected to arrange for the destruction of John Paul's Fisherman's Ring and the dies used to make lead seals for apostolic letters formal gestures meant to symbolize the end of his reign and to prevent forgeries.

The pope's funeral will include pageantry reserved for the highest prince of the church and in the presence of many of the world's secular and religious leaders.

The pope died Saturday of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse, but had been struggling with declining health for many years. He was 84.

"Even if we fear we've lost a point of reference, I feel like everybody in this square is united with him in a hug," said Luca Ghizzardi, a 38-year-old nurse among the throng in St. Peter's Square, with a sleeping bag and a handmade peace flag at his feet.

On Sunday, John Paul lay in state in the Vatican's frescoed Apostolic Palace, dressed in crimson vestments and a white bishop's miter, his head resting on a stack of gold pillows. A rosary was wound around his hands and a staff was tucked under his left forearm. A Swiss Guard stood on either side as diplomats, politicians and clergy paid their respects at his feet.

"Our Holy Father looks very much at peace. It was very satisfying for all of us to see him so serene," Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said after paying his respects. "His life is finished and he gave up his spirit."

Around the world, bells tolled and worshippers prayed in remembrance of the man who reigned for longer than all but two of his predecessors and was credited with helping bring down communism in Europe and spreading a message of peace during his frequent travels around the world.

During their preparatory meetings, the cardinals quietly will be sizing up each other for the task of electing the 265th successor to St. Peter, the first pope.

John Paul was 58 when the cardinals elected him in 1978 as the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. He appointed all but three of the 117 cardinals entitled to attend the secret conclave electing the new pope, but there is no guarantee that his legacy of conservatism will continue into the new reign.

John Paul opposed divorce, birth control and abortion, the ordination of women and the lifting of the celibacy requirement for priests, issues that sharply divided the church.

"Today, while we weep for the departure of the pope who left us, we open our hearts to the vision of our eternal destiny," Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's No. 2 official, said in his homily on Sunday.

"For a quarter century, he brought the Gospel of Christian hope to all the piazzas of the world, teaching all of us that our death is nothing but the passage toward the homeland in the sky," he said.

The written text of Sodano's homily called the late pope "John Paul the Great," a title usually designated for popes worthy of sainthood, such as Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. Sodano did not use the title when he delivered the homily, and there was no explanation.

Vatican texts, however, are considered official texts even if they are not pronounced.

"It's a historic event," said Ercole Ferri, a 72-year-old Roman who proudly showed off a list of the six popes he has lived through. "It's not something sad for me. I think of all that he has done."

"I think more about how hard it will be for a new one to follow in his footsteps," he added.

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