Hundreds of thousands in St. Peter's Square, including dignitaries from 138 countries, bid an emotional farewell to Pope John Paul II today at a funeral service that drew up to four million to Rome. News agencies and spectators described the event as the largest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times.
Applause rang out as the casket containing the body of the late pontiff was brought to St. Peter's Square in procession, placed on a carpet on the ground in front of the main alter and a book of Gospels was placed on top of the casket and opened. The Vatican reported that the procession included the College of Cardinals and the patriarchs of the Oriental Churches, all in red vestments, who kissed the altar before taking their places.
Millions of people who had come to Rome for John Paul's funeral but who could not be accommodated in St. Peter's Square itself, watched the ceremony on 27 giant screens placed throughout the city, including at the two football stadiums, Tor Vergata University, the Circus Maximus, the basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Risorgimento near the Vatican, the Colosseum and Via della Conciliazione, and the broad avenue leading to St. Peter's Square.
According to the Vatican, many of those in St. Peter's Square, at various times during the Mass, called out for John Paul II to be proclaimed a saint. The calls, accompanied by sustained applause, began as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, finished his homily. A number of banners could be seen with the words "Santo Subito" (a saint immediately) and "John Paul II the Great" and one, with his papal crest, saying "Pope John Paul II - saint," the Vatican reported.
Following the prayer after communion, Cardinal Ratzinger proceeded to the rite of the final recommendation and act of committal, standing by the casket of John Paul II. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar for the diocese of Rome, then stood next to the casket, the cantors sang the Litany of Saints, and the cardinal vicar then concluded the supplication of the Church of Rome with a prayer before returning to his seat.
At this point the patriarchs and archbishops major and metropolitans of the Catholic Oriental metropolitan Churches "sui iuris", went to the casket, the Vatican reported, and, facing the altar, recited the supplication of the Oriental Churches from the Office of the Dead of the Byzantine liturgy. Everyone present prayed in silence and Cardinal Ratzinger sprinkled holy water on the remains while the choir sang a response.
John Pauls casket was then brought into the Vatican Basilica to the place of burial as the faithful sang the Magnificat.
In a rite presided over by Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, camerlengo of Holy Roman Church,the casket was tied with red ribbons on which were placed the seals of the Apostolic Camera, the Prefecture of the Papal Household, the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and the Vatican Chapter. The cypress casket was then placed in the zinc and wood caskets which were soldered shut and covered with the seals of the aforementioned offices. On the top were the cross and coat-of-arms of John Paul II, the Vatican reported.
The notary of the Basilica Chapter verified the act of burial and read it to those present.
Cardinal Somalo then concluded the service with the words: "Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him."
According to the Associated Press, John Paul's tomb will be covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican would announce in a few days when the grotto would be reopened to the public.
The Vatican reported that today's funeral Mass for the late pontiff was attended by reigning monarchs of 10 countries, 57 heads of State, 3 hereditary princes, 17 heads of government, the heads of 3 international organizations and representatives from 10 others, 3 spouses of heads of State, 8 vice heads of State, 6 vice prime ministers, 4 presidents of parliaments, 12 foreign ministers, 13 ministers, and ambassadors from 24 countries.
Religious delegations, numbering 140 people, included representatives from the Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Churches and ecclesial communions of the West, international Christian organizations, the National Association of Evangelicals, representatives of Judaism, Islam, and delegations from non-Christian religions, according to the Vatican.
In addition to its report on the funeral of John Paul II, the Vatican also released today the English translation of the homily delivered in Italian by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the funeral Mass.
The following are excerpts taken from the homily:
"'Follow me.' The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock. 'Follow me' - this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II. Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality - our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.
"These are the sentiments that inspire us, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, present here in Saint Peter's Square, in neighboring streets and in various other locations within the city of Rome, where an immense crowd, silently praying, has gathered over the last few days. I greet all of you from my heart. In the name of the College of Cardinals, I also wish to express my respects to Heads of State, Heads of Government and the delegations from various countries. I greet the Authorities and official representatives of other Churches and Christian Communities, and likewise those of different religions. Next I greet the Archbishops, Bishops, priests, religious men and women and the faithful who have come here from every Continent; especially the young, whom John Paul II liked to call the future and the hope of the Church. My greeting is extended, moreover, to all those throughout the world who are united with us through radio and television in this solemn celebration of our beloved Holy Father's funeral.
"How often, in his letters to priests and in his autobiographical books has he spoken to us about his priesthood, to which he was ordained on 1 November 1946. In these texts he interprets his priesthood with particular reference to three sayings of the Lord. First: 'You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last' (Jn 15:16). The second saying is: 'The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep' (Jn 10:11). And then: 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love' (Jn 15:9). In these three sayings we see the heart and soul of our Holy Father. He really went everywhere, untiringly, in order to bear fruit, fruit that lasts. 'Rise, Let us be on our Way!' is the title of his next-to-last book. 'Rise, let us be on our way!' - with these words he roused us from a lethargic faith, from the sleep of the disciples of both yesterday and today. 'Rise, let us be on our way!' he continues to say to us even today. The Holy Father was a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the Church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months. And in this way he became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep. Finally, 'abide in my love:' the Pope who tried to meet everyone, who had an ability to forgive and to open his heart to all, tells us once again today, with these words of the Lord, that by abiding in the love of Christ we learn, at the school of Christ, the art of true love.
"Our Pope - and we all know this - never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself; he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, for Christ and thus also for us. And thus he came to experience how everything which he had given over into the Lord's hands came back to him in a new way. His love of words, of poetry, of literature, became an essential part of his pastoral mission and gave new vitality, new urgency, new attractiveness to the preaching of the Gospel, even when it is a sign of contradiction.
"The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ's flock, his universal Church. This is not the time to speak of the specific content of this rich pontificate. I would like only to read two passages of today's liturgy which reflect central elements of his message. In the first reading, Saint Peter says - and with Saint Peter, the Pope himself - 'I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all' (Acts 10:34-36). And in the second reading, Saint Paul - and with Saint Paul, our late Pope - exhorts us, crying out: 'My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved' (Phil 4:1).
"Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr's death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper. There Jesus had said: 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' Peter said to him, 'Lord, where are you going?' Jesus replied: 'Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward.' (Jn 13:33,36). Jesus from the Supper went towards the Cross, went towards his resurrection - he entered into the paschal mystery; and Peter could not yet follow him. Now - after the resurrection - comes the time, comes this 'afterward.' By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes towards the cross and the resurrection. The Lord says this in these words: '... when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go' (Jn 21:18). In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterwards, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ's sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: 'Someone else will fasten a belt around you.' And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end (cf. Jn 13:1).
"He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil 'is ultimately Divine Mercy' (Memory and Identity, pp. 60-61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: 'In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love ... It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good' (pp. 189-190). Impelled by this vision, the Pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful.
"None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing 'urbi et orbi.' We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father.