VATICAN CITY, JUNE 3, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Blessed John XXIII´s incorrupt body was displayed in St. Peter´s Square today, exactly 38 years after his death.
A half-million people are expected to visit the “Good Pope´s” remains this week in St. Peter´s Basilica.
During his homily at Mass on Pentecost, John Paul II thanked the “Good Pope” for his “witness of holiness,” giving the Catholic Church a surprise renewal with the convocation of the Second Vatican Council.
“That light breeze became a determined wind, and the conciliar event took on the form of a renewed Pentecost,” the Pope told the thousands of pilgrims in the square.
John XXIII´s (1881-1963) incorrupt body, dressed in white pontifical ornaments, and his characteristic ermine-bordered red velvet cape, appeared before pilgrims in a bronze and crystal coffin, in St. Peter´s Square, a few minutes before the Mass began. His face was covered by a protective wax mask.
When the 450-kilogram (990-pound) bulletproof coffin, wheeled by 16 people, went through the Arch of Bells into the square, the silence of the solemnity was broken by the faithful´s applause, many of them elderly people who knew Angelo Roncalli when he was alive. The day after his death, his body was also displayed in St. Peter´s Square before 100,000 people.
Among today´s front-row pilgrims was Sister Caterina Capitani, an Italian nun who was cured of a malignant tumor. The miracle was attributed to John XIII´s intercession, and made possible the “Good Pope´s” beatification last Sept. 3.
The nun smiled, when she was approached by reporters, and was very moved. “What would you like me to say?” she asked. “It is a very beautiful and important day, I don´t know what else to add.”
To explain why he decided to display the “Good Pope´s” body again, John Paul II quoted a phrase that Pope Roncalli used to say when referring to martyrs and Pontiffs buried in St. Peter´s Basilica and the Vatican grottoes: “Sometimes, the relics of their bodies are reduced to a few bones, but their memory and prayer continues to palpitate in them.”
Following the Mass, John XXIII´s body was taken in procession into the basilica. It was placed before the altar of the Confession, so that it could be venerated by pilgrims until 8 p.m. Roman time.
After the basilica is closed, the coffin will be finally placed in St. Jerome´s altar, a favorite spot of the deceased Pontiff´s.
John XXIII´s body was found well preserved when it was exhumed earlier this year. Vatican officials cautioned against considering it a miracle, citing the modern preservation techniques used on the body.