Pope John Paul’s Body Viewed

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Tens of thousands attended a memorial Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.
Pope’s Body Laid Out for Viewing by Church Hierarchy and Officials

VATICAN CITY, April 3 – His folded hands intertwined with a rosary, the body of Pope John Paul II was laid out inside the papal palace today as the balance of power in the Roman Catholic Church began its shift to the unnamed man who will soon replace him.

Just 12 hours after he died on Saturday night, the great pageantry around the death of a pope began, with a huge public Mass in St. Peter’s Square and then the first rites of John Paul II’s funeral: The 84-year-old pope was laid out in Clementine Hall, dressed in white and red vestments, his head covered with a white bishop’s miter and propped up on three dark gold pillows. Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow’s ear, that he carried in public.

"He suffered a lot, and he suffered for many years," Francesco Rutelli, the former mayor of Rome and a key opposition leader in Italy, said after seeing the body of the pope, whom he had met with often over the years.

In death, after 26 years as pope, "His expression was serene," Mr. Rutelli said.

The viewing ceremony – broadcast live over Italian television – was a private one for cardinals, bishops and other members of the church hierarchy as well as prominent officials in this nation where the Catholic Church is a central and ancient pillar. The guests included Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s personal secretary for decades and by proximity one of the most powerful men in the church, sat in a rear pew receiving condolences and wiping away tears.

The public mourning over the body of Pope John Paul II – who died after a urinary tract infection on Thursday set off a fatal spiral of ailments – begins on Monday. Then, the pope’s body will be displayed at the top of the steps outside the huge bronze doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, designed in part by Michelangelo. Already today, several hundred chairs were set up in two sections – broken up by an open surface of stone where his body will lay for three or four days starting on Monday – in front of the basilica.

Today, huge crowds continued to flock to St. Peter’s Square, after two nights of vigils for the pope, who died during a crowded prayer service for his health at 9:37 p.m. on Saturday. At a memorial Mass in the morning, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who served as the public voice for the pope in the last stages of his illness, announced to tens of thousands of worshipers that he would be reading a message prepared by the pope himself for this Sunday, a week after Easter.

"It is love which converts hearts and gives peace," the pope said in the blessing read by Archbishop Sandri. "Lord, who with your death and resurrection revealed the love of the Father, we believe in you and with faith we repeat to you today: `Jesus I trust in you, have pity on us and on the entire world.’ "

But the mood had begun to change slightly from what had been an anxious death watch: On a beautiful sunny day, there were banners and music and a self-conscious awareness of being close to history, with Romans and tourists alike posing in front of St. Peter’s with copies of newspapers with big headlines announcing John Paul II’s death.

Still, there remained a strong sense of loss and mourning for a pope who had reigned for so long and inspired many Catholics – whether or not they agreed with his conservative stances on social issues – with the idea that his papacy was different from others.

"In a world that needs guidance, he’s always been very clear," said Rita Dekonski, 45, a banker from England. "He’s reaffirmed a lot of Catholic values that were being lost."

Still she said that in the next pope she would like one who is "a little more liberal."

Ivana Sparaco, 30, an English teacher from Rome, said she hoped the next pope would be on the model of John Paul II, especially in his down-to-earth manner.

"He struck me as very human, very informal, demonstrating no shame about his suffering," she said. "My impression of the church used to be that it was a somber place of penance, but the pope made it into something of a joy for me."

Even amid the start of ceremonies honoring this pope, the prospect of a new pope was never far away: On the death of John Paul II, nearly all the top officials of Vatican departments were forced to step down, leaving the church in a brief state of suspended animation. The new pope, whose election begins in the Sistine Chapel between 15 and 20 days from now, will decide which cardinals will lead his administration and thus set the new path for the next era in the Roman Catholic Church.

And on Monday, the college of cardinals convenes for the first time to discuss church business in the interregnum, details of John Paul II’s funeral and how to proceed toward the conclave that will choose the next pope.

Meanwhile, the Vatican "camerlengo" or chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez-Somalo, a 78-year-old Spaniard, took over administrative, if not spiritual, control of a church with a billion members worldwide. By tradition, the chamberlain is charged with determining officially that the pope is dead. At the first viewing of the pope’s body today in the papal palace, Cardinal Martinez-Somalo took a public role, sprinkling John Paul II with holy water and offering a blessing.

"We beg the Lord to welcome him into his kingdom and to grant him the prize for the trials he has endured for the Gospel," Cardinal Martinez-Somalo said in Latin before the pope’s body.

His head turned slightly aside, John Paul II was laid on a platform in the huge hall, used to greet dignitaries like President Bush, with two Swiss guards on either side of him. The guards themselves knelt to pay their respects, as did nuns, priests, diplomats and some of the most important people in Italy.

The Vatican released today more details of the illness of John Paul II, who died in his apartment in the papal palace after deciding on Thursday not to return to the hospital despite the knowledge, according to his spokesman, that his new condition was extremely serious. He had been admitted twice to the Gemelli hospital clinic since Feb. 1, the start of a two-month decline toward his death.

The official death certificate said he died from "septic shock" – when a patient’s blood pressure drops precipitously because of infection – and "irreversible cardio-circulatory collapse." The death certificate listed as contributing causes Parkinson’s disease, which he had suffered from for over a decade; episodes of respiratory insufficiency and constriction of the trachea; signs of heart damage; and an enlarged prostate gland, which made him vulnerable to the kind of urinary infection that killed him.

The certificate said the death was certified after the pope’s heart was tested for 20 minutes with an electrocardiogram.

On Monday, it is possible the Vatican will announce the day of the funeral. By church rules, he must be buried within the fourth and sixth day after his death. An announcement is also possible on whether he will be interred with other popes in St. Peter’s Basilica or whether his will specified him to be buried in his home country of Poland.

In Turkey, Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and seriously injured the pope in 1981, was also mourning the pope’s death, his brother told The Associated Press. The pope publicly forgave Mr. Agca, visited him in prison and received several of his relatives, including his mother.

"I feel that he is in deep sorrow over the death of the pope, who was like a brother to him," Mr. Agca’s brother, Adnan, was quoted as saying. "We’re all very sad. He was a great man who contributed a lot to world peace."

Elisabeth Rosenthal of The International Herald Tribune, Elisabetta Povoledo and Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome for this article.

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