600,000 Line Up to Pay Last Respects to John Paul II

4-hour Wait Doesn’t Deter the Crowds

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 5, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Some 600,000 people queued for an average of four hours to say goodbye to John Paul II, whose body lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The estimates came from the Italian Civil Protection and the Prefecture of Rome. The average number of people who filed past the Pope’s body today was 15,000 to 18,000 per hour. The same numbers are expected Wednesday.

The exposition will continue throughout the day and night, except from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., when the basilica will be closed for maintenance.

The queue today extended the length of the Via della Conciliazione and spread to adjacent streets.

Each faithful was able to spend some 15 seconds, walking slowly and without pausing, before the Holy Father’s mortal remains, which are before the Altar of the Confession, under the Bernini canopy, a few meters from St. Peter’s tomb. Some took photographs.

Most of those interviewed as they left the basilica told ZENIT that it was worthwhile to queue for so long to be able to be near the Pontiff and to pray for him.

Volunteers distributed free bottles of mineral water — 250,000 were consumed Monday — among the queuing pilgrims. Hospitals have been installed in tents to assist those in need.

This morning, Archbishop Angelo Comastri, vicar for Vatican City State, concelebrated a Mass with other bishops for the repose of the Pope’s soul at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter.

«Before the Pope’s body, in the dignity and serenity of his death, we express to God once again our gratitude for having given us such a Pastor,» said Archbishop Comastri in the homily.

«Today we see a river of people filing before the Pope because he, with his testimony, has awakened our faith and, therefore, our community. This is John Paul II’s last silent homily,» he concluded.

About 2 million people are expected to attend the funeral Friday, including some 200 heads of state.

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