VATICAN CITY, APRIL 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s closest aides along with a small group of journalists attended the first of the funeral rites for the Pope.
The first rite took place this morning in the Clementine Hall and was presided over by the cardinal chamberlain, Eduardo Martínez Somalo.
The rite began with prayers and Psalms pronounced by Cardinal Martínez, who lit the paschal candle, situated next to the catafalque in which the Pope’s body is lying, and then blessed the body three times and sprinkled holy water. At the end, the Our Father was intoned, also in Latin.
Phil Pullela, a Reuters correspondent in Rome, observed that the Pope has a white rosary in his hands and the silver crosier that always accompanied him.
“He had the face of someone who has suffered much but has now passed to a better life,” the Efe agency’s correspondent in the Vatican, Juan Lara, told ZENIT. Lara was among those in the pool of journalists admitted to the Clementine Hall.
Lara commented on John Paul II’s “very white” hands, and said that the atmosphere in the Clementine Hall was “solemn.”
Another reporter, Salvatore Izzo of the Italian Agency AGI, was impressed by the Pope’s “long-suffering” face.
The body of the Pope is dressed in crimson vestments, a white miter, and a pallium fastened with a gold pin.
The Reuters reporter said, “Among the first persons to say goodbye to the Pope was Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo.”
Those united in prayer before the Pope’s body were arranged in two areas. On the right was a space for the Pontifical Household members, including the Polish nuns who looked after John Paul II, and his private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
On the left, there were cardinals recollected in prayer, among them Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, who was seated and “would bend forward holding his hands to his head,” and Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, “very moved,” according to Pullela.
John Paul II’s private secretary, Archbishop Dziwisz, used his handkerchief several times, and wept when he was embraced by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, according to the reporters.