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Pope's Testament: Resigning Was Considered

Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM

The document was released by the Vatican on Thursday as a steady stream of new pilgrims joined the masses of people crowding the world's smallest state for the pontiff's funeral. Some 4 million pilgrims have visited Vatican City and its surroundings since the pope died Saturday, police chief Marcello Fulvi said.

John Paul's will, which he wrote over the course of his 26-year pontificate, said he had left no material property and had asked that all his personal notes be burned. It mentioned only two living people: his personal secretary and the chief rabbi of Rome who welcomed him to Rome's synagogue in 1986.

The Polish-born pope in 1982 also had considered the possibility of a funeral in Poland, asking that the opinion of his fellow countrymen be taken into account by the cardinals. Three years later, however, he said the cardinals had no obligation to sound out the Poles but could do so.

The pope, who died at the age of 84, will be buried under St. Peter's Basilica on Friday after a funeral in the square.

Newly arrived Poles, waving red-and-white flags, were among the tens of thousands of people massed around the Vatican, adding a shimmering stripe of color to the procession. An estimated 2 million Poles were making their way to Rome to pay tribute to the man credited with helping to end communism in Poland and unite Europe.

"We thought we'd find a lot of people here and could not get to the basilica," said Mikhal Szylar, a 19-year-old student who arrived on a bus from Poland. "We hope we'll be able to see the pope in a few hours."

John Paul started writing his testament in 1979, the year after he was elected the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. The last entry was in 2000. It was written in Polish and translated by the Vatican into Italian.

Each entry was written during Lent, a period of reflection during the church calendar that precedes Easter.

Writing in 2000, when the effects of his Parkinson's disease already were apparent, the pope suggested the time was one of apparent torment for him, mentioning the 1981 attempt on his life. He called his survival a "miracle."

Now that he had reached 80, he said it was time to ask himself about a biblical phrase referring to Simeon who, after blessing Christ when he was a child, said "now Master you may let your servant go."

John Paul said he hoped the Lord "would help me to recognize how long I must continue this service to which he called me the day of 16 October, 1978."

But he appeared to answer his doubts by leaving it to God, who he said had saved him after the assassination attempt, to "re-call him when He saw fit."

He also prayed at the time that he would have the "necessary strength" to continue his mission as long as he was serving as pope.

John Paul mentioned only two living people in his will. They were his personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, whom he thanked profusely for his years of service. And in recalling various Christian and non-Christians for thanks, he singled out "the rabbi of Rome" _ a reference to the former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who hosted John Paul during the pontiff's historic visit to Rome's central synagogue in 1986.

It was the first time a pope had ever visited a synagogue. Toaff paid his respects during a visit to John Paul's body on Monday, raising his arm in a gesture of tribute.

A Toaff spokesman said Thursday the 89-year-old rabbi is "pleasantly surprised" and "honored" by the mention.

The testament also included John Paul's wish to be "buried in the ground," a request the Vatican is honoring with his burial beneath St. Peter's Basilica.

John Paul called for the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council to continue, calling them "the great gift."

"I am convinced that still, it will be given to the new generations to draw on the richness that this council of the 20th century has granted us," he wrote.

The Second Vatican Council, the series of meetings between 1962-65, modernized the church with a host of reforms, including the provision that Mass could be said in languages other than Latin, that the priest could face the congregation, and it opened the church up to other Christian denominations and other religions.

John Paul left it to Dziwisz to dispose of any personal goods.

"I'm not leaving behind any property of which it should be necessary to take care of," he wrote. "Everyday items can be given out as it is seen opportune. Personal notes should be burned."

"I ask that Don Stanislaw watch over this, whom I thank for the cooperation and understanding help for so many years," the late pontiff wrote.

"All the other thank you's I leave in my heart before God himself, because it's hard to express them."

Across the city, giant screens were being set up to allow pilgrims who can't get to St. Peter's Basilica for the funeral to see Mass. Vehicle traffic was banned and schools were to shut down to ease congestion as Rome dealt with an unprecedented influx of people.

The city of Rome asked residents to take pilgrims into their homes, while a tent city was opened on the outskirts of Rome.

Pilgrims anxious to get a glimpse of the pope's body waited patiently in the line, which was reopened Thursday morning after a closure of several hours.

The basilica was expected to close around 10 p.m. Thursday to prepare the square for Friday morning's funeral drawing some 200 world leaders, royalty and other dignitaries and millions of ordinary faithful.

President Bush was joined by his father, former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton in giving a private tribute Wednesday night, kneeling at the side of John Paul's bier and folding their hands in silent prayer.

Italian authorities readied anti-aircraft rocket launchers and took other security measures to protect the dignitaries converging on Rome for the funeral. Naval boats were patrolling the Tiber River that marks the boundary of Vatican City, and missile-armed ships were guarding the coastline.

As they planned the transition from John Paul's eventful 26-year reign, the College of Cardinals set April 18 as the start of its conclave to elect a successor, a papal election with new rules and new technologies.

The number of cardinal electors under age 80 and thus eligible to vote is 117. On Wednesday, the Philippines Embassy to the Holy See said Cardinal Jaime Sin, 76, was too ill to attend. However, on Thursday, Sin's office in Manila said the cardinal was hoping to attend despite his poor health.

According to church law, prelates are expected to hold at least one ballot on the first day of a conclave. If no one gets the required two-thirds majority after about 12 days, cardinals may change procedure and elect the pope by simple majority.

Indonesian Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, the archbishop of Jakarta, said he hoped the College of Cardinals would keep John Paul's legacy in mind when they enter the conclave.

"We hope that the man they appointed will be more or less like him," he told reporters as he entered the Vatican for Thursday's pre-conclave meetings.


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The document was released by the Vatican on Thursday as a steady stream of new pilgrims joined the masses of people crowding the world's smallest state for the pontiff's funeral. Some 4 million pilgrims have visited Vatican City and its surroundings since the pope died...
Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM
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