World Bids a Farewell to John Paul II

«A Priest to the Last,» Cardinal Ratzinger Says at Funeral Mass

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2005 ( An ocean of humanity, from presidents to pilgrims to bishops, bid an emotional farewell to Pope John Paul II in a funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

Millions around Rome, and countless hundreds of millions worldwide, followed the more than two-and-a-half hour Mass today via television and radio.

Applause erupted as the Pope’s plain cypress coffin, adorned with a cross and an «M» for the Blessed Virgin Mary, was brought out from St. Peter’s Basilica and placed on a carpet in front of the altar. The Book of the Gospels was placed on the coffin.

After the Mass ended, bells tolled and 12 pallbearers presented the coffin to the crowd one last time, and then carried it on their shoulders back inside the basilica for burial — again to sustained applause from dignitaries from 138 nations and the crowds in the square chanting «santo subito,» a Italian phrase meaning «sainthood at once.»

The Pope was buried at 2:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m. EST) in the grotto under the basilica, attended by prelates and members of the Pontifical Household, the Vatican said.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, presided at the Mass and referred to John Paul II in a homily that traced the Pontiff’s life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to his final days as the head of the Catholic Church.

The cardinal choked up as he recalled one of John Paul II’s last public appearances — when he blessed the faithful from his apartment window on Easter.

«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,» Cardinal Ratzinger said as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.

«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,» he said.

The cardinal put John Paul II’s pontificate, and life, in perspective.

«‘Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way!’ is the title of his next-to-last book,» he said. «‘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.»

The cardinal continued: «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.»

«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,» said Cardinal Ratzinger.

The funeral ceremony began early in the morning in Rome when Archbishop Piero Marini, master of pontifical liturgical celebrations, read the «rogito,» the document which records the life and works of John Paul II.

Archbishop Marini and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the private secretary of John Paul II, covered the Pontiff’s face with a white silk veil.

Archbishop Marini then placed in the casket a small bag of medallions, and a lead tube containing the «rogito.»

The casket was sealed and carried by the pallbearers into St. Peter’s Square for the funeral Mass.

At the end of the funeral, the body of the Pope began its final journey into the basilica, through the «door of death» on the left side of the main altar, and taken to the downstairs grotto — the location of the tomb of St. Peter — while the crowd applauded and chanted.

The coffin was sealed and wrapped with three silk ribbons before being placed in a zinc coffin, which was hermetically sealed.

The zinc coffin was then placed in an oak coffin and interred under a marble slab, inscribed with John Paul II in Latin. The tomb is in the spot left vacant by John XXIII, whose body was transferred to a Vatican chapel in 2000, when he was beatified, the first step towards sainthood.

His grave is a few meters from the tomb of the Apostle Peter, next to Paul VI, and in front of John Paul I.

The funeral begins a nine-day period of mourning that will last until April 16, two days before the first day of the conclave, April 18.

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