Millions Pour into Rome to Honor Pope at Funeral

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors joined presidents, kings, bishops and priests in St. Peter’s Square on Friday to honor Pope John Paul II at a funeral service that drew millions to Rome in one of the largest peaceful religious gatherings of modern times.

Politicians and rulers sat beside Christian, Muslim and Jewish dignitaries as they watched John Paul’s wooden coffin be placed on a carpet in front of an altar at St. Peter’s Basilica. According to the Associated Press, the simple wooden coffin was adorned with a cross and an “M” for Mary, and the book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor to the papacy, presided at the Mass and the Vatican’s Sistine Choir sang the Gregorian chant “Grant him eternal rest, O Lord.”

"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," Ratzinger said during his homily.

"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," Ratzinger continued in his heavily accented Italian, according to AP.

After the Mass, the pope’s body will be carried under the basilica where it will join the remains of past popes.

Some 300,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square, but millions watched on giant video screens set up across Rome.

President Bush sat on the aisle in the second row, next to his wife, Laura. Beside them were French President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, represented the Anglican Communion at the service while the Lutheran World Federation was represented by its general secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also traveled to Rome to represent the Orthodox Church.