Rome Under Pressure With Pope’s Funeral

A seemingly unending line of pilgrims, estimated at 18,000 an hour, came Tuesday to pray briefly at the bier of John Paul II, lower left.

Influx of Pilgrims to See Pope Puts Strains on the Italians
By DANIEL J. WAKIN and IAN FISHER

ROME, April 5 – The outpouring of mourning for Pope John Paul II blossomed into a vast religious pilgrimage on Tuesday, with hundreds of thousands flocking to St. Peter’s Square by the end of the first full day of public grieving over the pope’s body.

The influx, which has both amazed and alarmed Italian and Vatican officials, began straining the city’s security and emergency services, with three days to go before the pope’s funeral on Friday.

On Tuesday, a river of humanity rolled slowly through the medieval cobblestone streets around St. Peter’s Basilica, with 600,000 paying their respects on Tuesday, according to government figures. On Monday 400,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square, when the pope’s body was carried briefly through the crowd.

"I have been able to measure the depth of emotion that this pope has stirred in people," said Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni.

Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the pope’s spokesman, said at a news conference on Tuesday that 88 of the 183 cardinals met in the Apostolic Palace; the number will increase as more arrive for the funeral. They had not yet been read the contents of the pope’s will, possibly because it was still being translated from Polish into Italian, as newspapers here speculated.

No date for the start of the conclave to elect the pope – which must come 15 to 20 days after his death – was announced. The date is one of the most important of the cardinals’ early decisions.

Only cardinals under 80 can vote for pope, and there are 117 in that category. Only three of those have taken part in a previous conclave, and many do not know each other. The daily meetings, called general congregations, have therefore become get-acquainted sessions and, many Vatican watchers say, the informal start of conversations about who among them will become the next pope.

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

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.

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 – would be driven home by the ringing of bells. In the past, a muddled color of smoke 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 he said was the pope’s wish – beneath where the tomb of John XXIII was once in the Vatican grottoes, where more than 70 of the 264 popes are buried. John’s body was moved into the basilica in 2000 to accommodate the crowds of visitors after his beatification.

Given the adulation in St. Peter’s Square, it was perhaps no surprise that the issue of sainthood for John Paul would come up. At a news conference on Tuesday, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said he had no doubt such an effort would arise. He also took note of John Paul’s dedication to prayer.

"If that’s sanctity, and that’s what it means, he was obviously a holy man," Cardinal George said.

The contents of the pope’s will were not the only mystery. In 2003, in appointing a batch of cardinals, John Paul said one had been given the honor "in pectore," or "close to the heart" – meaning his name would be kept secret, often the 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 in his will for the name to be released, it would be.

Dr. Navarro-Valls confirmed that the pope had not been embalmed but "prepared" for viewing. He did not elaborate. Archbishop Marini said the pope would be buried with a small bag of commemorative medals as well as a lead tube containing a brief account of his life.

At the Vatican news conference, Archbishop Marini seemed eager to assure the world that the Catholic Church was in good 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, the archbishop said.

On Tuesday, the line of those waiting to pay homage to the pope wound through the streets near the Vatican, curved around the old city 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.

Nearby pizzerias had their counters swept clean and the souvenir shops selling papal postcards, calendars and rosaries reported their busiest day ever. Men from Poland in ceremonial military uniforms marched in groups. Umbrellas, including one with a reproduction of Sistine Chapel cherubs, dotted the crowd as protection against the sun.

"I’ve never seen anything like this in Rome before," said Bianca Maria Ricucci, 66, who lives near the Vatican. "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 in town anyway, a fair number of Poles were on hand, and groups from Spain, France and other European countries were already 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 he could get. "You make the biggest effort to do it."

The Vatican itself was not counting how many people actually saw the body, but Italian officials said as many as 18,000 people churned through the basilica each hour. Some waited up to 10 hours to enter for a fleeting glimpse of the body.

"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 traveled 14 hours by bus with 250 fellow students. "It was definitely worth the entire trip, just to be able to do that."

John Paul died Saturday night. The viewing will end Thursday night or early Friday.

The city has set aside several buildings, stadiums and fields – including the park that was once the ancient Circus Maximus – to accommodate pilgrims. The state railroad has added 43 trains each day to the St. Peter’s station from around Italy.

Officials were also 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 the railroad.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Laurie Goodstein and Jason Horowitz, and Elisabeth Rosenthal and Elisabetta Povoledo of The International Herald Tribune.

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