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Pope laid to rest
Meek and mighty pay homage; crowd calls for sainthood

By Niko Price
Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY — The avenue leading to St. Peter's Square was crammed with pilgrims as far as the eye could see, yet the cool morning air was silent as the homily began. Suddenly, a cry rose up and spread quickly through the hundreds of thousands of faithful:

"Santo! Santo! Santo!"

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, center, blesses the casket of Pope John Paul II during funeral services Friday at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.
AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, center, blesses the casket of Pope John Paul II during funeral services Friday at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.
Even before John Paul II was carried to his grave Friday, mourners appealed to the church to canonize their first global pope. The call echoed throughout the unprecedented gathering of the mighty and the meek.

Some carried banners reading "Santo Subito" — "Immediate Sainthood."

"I'm here not only to pray for him, but also to pray to him, because I believe he's a saint," said Therese Ivers, 24, of Ventura, Calif., holding high an American flag.

Around the world, tens of millions followed the funeral rites in their homes, in overflowing churches and on giant television screens set up in fields, sports stadiums and town squares. They wept, sang and applauded the self-proclaimed "pilgrim pope" who spread his message of peace, restraint and tolerance to all corners of the planet.

In St. Peter's Square, at the center of it all, the book of the Gospels lay on a simple cypress coffin, adorned with a cross and an "M" for the Virgin Mary. A brisk wind lifted the book's pages and rippled the red vestments of cardinals, along with the turbans, fezzes and yarmulkes worn by leaders of other faiths touched by John Paul.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a confidant of the pope and a possible successor, delivered a homily that traced John Paul's path from a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.

"Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," Ratzinger said. Usually unflappable, the German-born cardinal choked with emotion.

Dignitaries from 138 countries looked on, reflecting the extraordinary mix of faiths and cultures that John Paul courted during his 26-year papacy: Orthodox bishops in long black robes, Jews in yarmulkes, Arabs in checkered headscarves, Central Asians in lambskin caps and Western political leaders in dark suits.

In a gesture the pope would certainly have applauded, Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he shook hands and chatted briefly with the leaders of his country's archenemies, Syria and Iran.

Bells tolled as the delegations took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. President Bush, accompanied by his predecessors Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, was the first American president to attend a papal funeral.

The 2-hour Mass began with the Vatican's Sistine Choir singing the Gregorian chant, "Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord."

Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, said John Paul was a "priest to the last" who offered his life for God and his flock, "especially amid the sufferings of his final months." He was interrupted by applause at least 10 times.

The Mass ended with cardinals, dignitaries and pilgrims standing and singing: "May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem."

Twelve white-gloved pallbearers carried the coffin back into St. Peter's Basilica, where it was nested inside a second casket of zinc and a third of walnut.

'The last tribute'

In a spontaneous gesture of respect, cardinals standing along the aisles removed their "zucchettos," or skull caps, as the coffin went by, according to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. "It was the last tribute to the Holy Father," he said.

In a grotto beneath the basilica, the casket was lowered into the ground in a plot inside a small chapel, between the tombs of two women: Queen Christina of Sweden and Queen Carlotta of Cyprus, said a senior Vatican official who attended the ceremony.

"Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him," said Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who performed the private service.

The Vatican grottoes — cramped, narrow passageways below the existing basilica — hold the remains of popes of centuries past, including the tomb traditionally believed to hold those of the apostle Peter, the first pope. Royals and the Roman Emperor Otto II are also buried there.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican would announce in a few days when the grottoes would be reopened to the public. Keeping them closed was a way of clearing the city of the throngs of pilgrims.

A drizzle began to fall Friday afternoon as exhausted travelers with overstuffed backpacks trudged toward bus and train stations. Poles whose 24-hour trips to Rome had ended only hours earlier got back into their cars for the long drive home.

During the ceremony, at least 300,000 people who camped out overnight on chilly streets filled St. Peter's Square and spilled out onto the Via della Conciliazione. Millions more watched on giant video screens set up across Rome, from university campuses to the Circus Maximus, where ancient Romans held chariot races centuries before Christianity was born.

Funerals in the last century for Mohandas Gandhi of India, Mao Zedong of China and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran drew millions, too, but they lacked the presence of leaders from so many nations.

The Israeli president said his handshake with Syrian President Bashar Assad came at the point in the service when members of the congregation "exchange the peace." Britain's Prince Charles drew criticism from two European Union legislators for shaking hands at that same moment with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, whose government is reviled internationally.

Despite the crowd's size Friday, there were few disturbances, and strangers shared food, water and umbrellas for shade in an outpouring of kindness that honored John Paul's message.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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