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Crowds Salute Pope


VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A swelling tide of faithful have flowed past Pope John Paul’s body in an outpouring of affection to repay the Polish Pontiff who reached out to millions during his many travels.

Hundreds of thousands lined up for hours to pay homage to the third-longest reigning pope, whose crimson-robed body lay in state inside the vaulted St. Peter’s Basilica where he had presided for 26 years before his death on Saturday.

“There is a river of people,” Bishop Angelo Comastri said on Tuesday of the crushing crowd waiting hours to pay tribute and carrying flags, crosses, umbrellas and pictures of John Paul.

The torrent of devotion came three days ahead of funeral rites that will draw together the world’s powerful, briefly united in mourning for the world’s best known religious leader.

Up to 2 million people are expected for the funeral on Friday as well as almost 200 world leaders in an unprecedented salute for a pontiff who helped bring down the Iron Curtain and stamped a uncompromising orthodoxy on his own faith.

The crowds saturated the area around St. Peter’s Square, stretching down the entire broad boulevard leading to the River Tiber, then spilling into the adjacent Borgo neighbourhood.

“He spent so much of his time going out to the whole world. We wanted to be part of the whole world coming to him,” said Sister Frances Orchard, an English nun living in Rome.

“So Much Affection”

There was no official estimate of the numbers. But Italian state TV said that only hours after John Paul’s body was put on view, almost half a million people had already turned up.

Later this month, cardinals will gather to elect his successor, with white smoke from the Sistine Chapel marking the decision. All but two of the 117 who are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote were hand-picked by John Paul.

The Pope left his Apostolic Palace for the last time on Monday, his body borne on a red velvet litter through the Vatican’s frescoed hallways into St. Peter’s Square and the basilica.

Pilgrims waited for more than five hours for the chance to say farewell to the Pope who travelled more than any other in two millennia to bring his message to the masses.

“He showed us so much affection during his long papacy. The least we could do is to show his affection back,” said 16-year-old Francesca Illiano of Naples, who kept an all-night vigil to the sound of prayers over a loudspeaker.

Swiss guards in ceremonial uniform stood to attention around the raised platform where the Pope lay, a silver crucifix tucked under one arm, a rosary in his hands.

Hints on the Next Pope

Cardinals decreed on Monday that the body should remain on view for three days and nights until the funeral attended by U.S. President George W. Bush and scores of other dignitaries.

John Paul will be buried under the spot once occupied by the tomb of Pope John XXIII in the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Red-hatted cardinals continued to arrive in Rome for the funeral and the secretive conclave, which must start between 15 and 20 days after the Pope’s death. The Vatican said on Tuesday that no date had yet been set for the conclave to begin.

On Monday, 65 of the cardinals finalised the funeral details and swore an oath of secrecy over the conclave. But before vanishing into the Vatican, some openly discussed the vote.

Some hinted they would welcome a pontiff from the developing world. Others said the next leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics should be a doctrinal conservative like John Paul.

South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier said: “It would be great, of course, if it were somebody from the vibrant south.”

“It’s possible for an African pope to be chosen,” Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson said before leaving Accra for Rome.

But Cardinal Bernard Agre of Ivory Coast said: “Psychologically and spiritually the West isn’t ready to welcome a black pope.”

Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski appeared to pour cold water on the chances of one top cardinal, 77-year-old Josef Ratzinger of Germany, saying: “The problem is his advanced age.”

“Indefatigable Warrior”

Three days after John Paul died at 84, tributes continued to pour in for a man who defied dictators, fought for the dispossessed and denounced dissent within his own Church.

“Rest in peace indefatigable warrior for friendship between peoples, enemy of war and friend of the poor,” Cuban President Fidel Castro wrote in a book of condolences in Havana.

Cuban officials said Castro would not attend the funeral.

But many others will come, including Bush and two Middle Eastern leaders often at odds with Washington — Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Critics of John Paul’s strict policies on birth control, women priests, homosexuality and abortion were unmoved.

“This papacy was a profound disappointment for those who believe that Christ’s message of liberation, human freedom and more democracy should apply not just to the world, but to the church itself,” said Frances Kissling, president of Washington-based Catholics for a Free Choice.

This article courtesy of Reuters.

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