Pilgrims Converge On Rome

A river of people, waiting for a glimpse of the pope’s body, moved slowly through the streets near the Vatican

Huge Crowds of Pilgrims Converge on the Vatican
ROME, April 5 – The public outpouring of mourning for Pope John Paul II blossomed into a grand religious pilgrimage today, with at least one million people flocking to St. Peter’s Square by the end of the first full day of public grieving over the pope’s body.

The number of visitors was extraordinary and unexpectedly high with three more days still to go before the pope’s funeral on Friday, which will be attended by the leaders of more than 100 nations and will attract hundreds of thousand of people.

The huge influx began straining the city’s security and emergency services. There was little time to prepare for such numbers, which have both amazed and alarmed Italian and Vatican officials.

"I have been able to measure the depth of emotion that this pope has stirred in people," said Mayor Walter Veltroni of Rome. "I think that nothing else in history compares to this event, and we’ve had so little time to prepare."

In a city of pilgrimages, this was shaping up as one of the biggest in recent memory. Italian government officials said it even exceeded the huge celebrations connected with the Catholic Church’s Jubilee year in 2000.

Today, a mighty river of humanity progressed slowly through the streets near St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican, citing government officials, said 400,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square on Monday, when the pope’s body was carried briefly before the crowd and into the basilica. An additional 600,000 paid their respects today, according to government figures, the Vatican said.

The Vatican itself was not counting how many people saw the body, but Italian officials said as many as 18,000 people churned through the cathedral each hour. Some waited up to 10 hours to enter for a fleeting glimpse of the corpse, hustled through by black-suited attendants.

"It might have been only 15 or 20 seconds with the pope," said Nicole Mayfield, 20, of Steubenville, Ohio, who is studying in Austria and arrived today after a 14-hour bus ride with 250 fellow students. "It was definitely worth the entire trip, just to be able to do that."

John Paul died on Saturday evening. The viewing will end Thursday night or early Friday, the day of his funeral.

Such large religious pilgrimages are certainly not unprecedented – millions make the hajj every year to Mecca – but Italian officials were faced with the suddenness of this one. The same lack of preparation time is proving a challenge to security officials preparing for the influx of world leaders for Friday’s funeral.

Inside the Vatican, the cardinals into whose hands the church has now been entrusted met for a second day to deal with matters according to a papal transition plan written by John Paul in 1996. They appeared to be operating at a deliberative pace. After making funeral arrangements on Monday, no new actions were reported today. No date for the start of the conclave to elect the pope – which must come 15 to 20 days after his death – was announced, one of the most important of the cardinals’ early decisions.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the pope’s spokesman, said at a news conference that 88 of the 183 living cardinals met in the Apostolic Palace, and the number will increase as more and more arrive for the funeral. They have yet have the pope’s will read to them, possibly because it was still being translated from Polish into Italian, as newspapers speculated here.

Only cardinals under 80 can vote for the next pope, and there are 117 in that category. Only three of those have ever taken part in a previous conclave, and many don’t know each other. The daily meetings, called general congregations, have therefore become prime get-to-know-you sessions.

"We say to each other, ‘Who is that?’ and, ‘Who is that?’ " Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said, pointing his finger, in an interview. He later told reporters that one of the three with conclave experience, Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, may not be able to attend.

Some details of the pope’s burial, and the election of his successor, did emerge.

In a departure from ancient ritual, the announcement of a new pope – traditionally signaled by white smoke from the burning of the ballots with a chemical added – would be driven home by the ringing of bells. In the past, a muddled color had caused confusion. "This way even journalists will know," said Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies.

Dr. Navarro-Valls confirmed that John Paul would be buried in the earth – which the spokesman said was his wish – beneath where the tomb of John XXIII once stood in the Vatican grotto, where scores of popes are buried. John’s body was moved into the basilica in 2000 to accommodate the crowds of visitors after his beatification.

At the news conference, a high-level Vatican official appeared eager to assure the world that the Catholic Church was in firm hands during the period between popes.

"It is a strong, strong period of faith for the church," bolstered by the pope’s plan and procedures spelled out by his predecessors, Archbishop Marini said.

The contents of the pope’s will were not the only mystery. In 2003, in naming a batch of cardinals, he said one had been given the honor "in pectore," or "close to the heart" – meaning his name would be kept secret, often a practice for a cardinal in a country where Catholics face oppression.

Dr. Navarro-Valls was asked whether the pope had revealed the cardinal’s identity, and he said, "We know nothing about this." The spokesman said that if the pope had given permission to release the name in his will, it would be made known.

Dr. Navarro-Valls confirmed that, as is customary, the pope had not been embalmed but prepared for viewing, and that he would be buried with a small bag of commemorative medals and a lead tube containing a brief account of his life.

The number of mourners lining up for the viewing swelled to immense proportions compared to Monday. The line wound through the streets near the Vatican, curved around walls and through arches and filled the grand boulevard, Via Della Conciliazione, leading to St. Peter’s Square. Security officials kept open gaps; when enough space opened up with the advance of the line, they allowed a portion to advance. People trotted forward happily. The mood was generally light, almost celebratory.

"For a man like the pope, it’s worth it," said Sonia De Luca, 22, who began standing in line at 9:30 a.m. and had only reached the front by 3 p.m.

Nearby pizzerias had their counters swept clean and the souvenir shops selling papal postcards, calendars and rosaries reported their busiest day ever. Forklifts delivered pallets of mineral water. Poles in ceremonial military uniforms marched in groups. Umbrellas, including one with a reproduction of Sistine Chapel cherubs, dotted the crowd against the sun. One woman carried a single red rose. A young man held his guitar aloft.

"I’ve never seen anything like this in Rome before," said Bianca Maria Ricucci, 66, who lives near the Vatican and sat with three friends on a bench along Via della Conciliazione. "It is his first miracle to have attracted all these people here."

While most of the people around St. Peter’s appeared to be Italian and tourists who had been here anyway, a fair number of Poles were on hand and groups of Spaniards, French and others from European countries were arriving. The Polish Foreign Ministry estimated that as many as two million Poles would travel to Rome.

"To most Catholics, it’s like traveling to the funeral of your father," said John Mortensen, 30, an American theology teacher living in Austria who flew to Rome with his wife and two children on the first flight that he could get. Thanks to a special lane for strollers and the elderly, it took his family only 15 minutes to enter.

The state railroad has added 43 trains each day to the St. Peter’s station from around Italy. Officials were bracing for the funeral’s aftermath when huge numbers of people would try to go home.

"If everyone tries to leave from St. Peter’s station, it will be the end of the world," said Luigi Irdi, a spokesman for Italy’s state railroad.

Logistics were being handled by Guido Bertolaso, the director of Italy’s Department of Emergency Relief.

He had a leading role in preparing for the Jubilee, which at its height drew two million people. He said he and his staff had had a year to prepare for that event.

"We knew how many were coming, where they were from, and where to put them," he said. "Here there’s been no advance planning and they’re coming from around the world. No city in the world can handle two million people coming together in just 48 hours. But we’ll manage."

There were plans today to send text messages to the nation’s cell phones warning of 10-hour lines, hot days and cool nights.

Laurie Goodstein, Elisabetta Povoledo, Jason Horowitz and Elisabeth Rosenthal contributed reporting for this article.

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