Tags: Millions | Gather | Rome | for | Final | Farewell

Millions Gather in Rome for Final Farewell

Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM

Throngs of pilgrims — an estimated 2 million since the pope's body went on public view Monday — had filed past the pope's bier in St. Peter's Basilica before its towering bronze doors were closed late Thursday.

Some 4 million people have flooded into the Italian capital to be nearer the pope before his funeral and burial in the Vatican grotto Friday.

Pilgrims staked out positions with sleeping bags and blankets just outside St. Peter's Square, getting as close they could to the scene of the funeral — even though they will see little more than the same images on giant television screens as could be seen elsewhere in the city.

Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by kids with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up to take the spillover from hotels. Hawkers jacked up prices of everything from bottled water to papal trinkets.

"You really have to love the pope to be willing to do this," said Nathanael Valdenaire, a young Frenchman who slept on the pavement in a sleeping bag alongside his sisters.

As dignitaries poured into the city, Rome's security agencies — bolstered by NATO surveillance aircraft high overhead — cranked up their defenses against everything from terrorism to unruly crowds.

Rome authorities planned to lock down the city. Starting Thursday night, vehicle traffic was banned from the city center. Air space was closed, and anti-aircraft batteries outside town were on alert. Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.

President Bush, along with former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, knelt and prayed at the side of the pope's bier Wednesday night, then paid a courtesy call Thursday on Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. They planned dinner with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The U.S. delegation was to be joined Friday by Prince Charles, who postponed his own wedding by one day to honor the pope; by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and by representatives of more than 80 countries. Jewish and Muslim religious leaders will be there, along with Israel's foreign minister and the head of the Arab League.

John Paul, weighed down by illness and age, reflected on his possible resignation as he turned 80, according to his last will and testament published Thursday. The pope also wrote of tormented times for himself and the church and left instructions for his notes to be burned.

The document, written in several entries over 22 years before he died Saturday at age 84, provides extraordinary insight into the pope's thinking in the twilight of his life as he reflected on death and his legacy, and as he prayed for the "necessary strength" to continue his mission.

"The times in which we live are unutterably difficult and disturbed," he wrote in 1980, according to the official Vatican translation from Polish. "The path of the church has also become difficult and tense ... both for the faithful and for pastors."

In a March 1979 entry, John Paul said he left no material property and asked that his longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, burn all his personal notes.

The pope made a landmark trip to Poland in June 1979 — his first trip to his homeland since becoming pontiff — inspiring the Solidarity trade union movement and its resistance to the atheistic communist government of the day.

The testament mentioned only two living people: Dziwisz and the retired chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who welcomed him to the city's synagogue in 1986 in a historic gesture of reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Jews.

The pope made several entries in his testament, starting the year after his election in 1978. The final entry was in 2000, when he was in pain and suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Each entry was written in Polish during Lent, the period of reflection before Easter.

In the final entry, he appeared to consider stepping aside. "Now, in the year during which my age reaches 80 years, it is necessary to ask if it is not the time to repeat the words of the biblical Simeon, "Nunc dimittis." The reference is to the passage, "Now Master you may let your servant go."

He reflected that he had been saved from death in a 1981 assassination attempt "in a miraculous way," and said his fate was even more in the hands of God.

"From this moment it belongs to Him all the more. I hope He will help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service," said the testament.

The pope wrote the lengthy addition to his testament three days before he left for a historic trip to the Holy Land, one of the most emotional of his many trips as head of the Catholic Church. At the time, his health was noticeably in decline: His speech had begun to slur, and his walk was unsteady because of a hip operation. He had fallen the year before, requiring stitches in his left temple.

In an early entry, he scratched in the margins that he wanted to be buried "in the bare earth, not a tomb." Accordingly, John Paul will be placed in the grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica.

In 1982, the pope considered the possibility of a funeral in his native Poland. Three years later, however, he left the site of his burial in the hands of the cardinals.

The same entry worried about the safety of the church and of his own country in the days before the fall of the communist regime.

"In some countries ... the church is undergoing a period of such persecution as to be in no way lesser than that of early centuries; indeed, it surpasses them in its degree of cruelty and hatred," he wrote. "And apart from this, many people disappear innocently, even in this country in which we are living."

At the end of the March 2000 entry, John Paul remembered his family, his childhood and his early priesthood in Poland.

"As the end of my life approaches I return with my memory to the beginning, to my parents, to my brother, to the sister (I never knew because she died before my birth), to the parish in Wadowice where I was baptized, to that city I love, to my peers, friends from elementary school, high school and the university, up to the time of the occupation when I was a worker, and then in the parish of Niegowic, then St. Florian's in Krakow, to the pastoral ministry of academics, ... to Krakow and to Rome. ... to the people who were entrusted to me in a special way by the Lord.

"To all I want to say just one thing: "May God reward you.'"


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Throngs of pilgrims - an estimated 2 million since the pope's body went on public view Monday - had filed past the pope's bier in St. Peter's Basilica before its towering bronze doors were closed late Thursday. Some 4 million people have flooded into the Italian...
Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM
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