By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published April 14, 2005
Pope John Paul II “offered his life for his flock and for the entire human family,” the dean of the College of Cardinals told hundreds of thousands of people gathered April 8 for the pope’s funeral Mass and burial.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean, presided over the Mass concelebrated by 157 of the world’s 183 cardinals. Another 700 bishops and 3,000 priests, wearing red stoles, participated.
Kings, queens, presidents—including U.S. President George W. Bush—Cabinet ministers and ambassadors representing more than 140 nations sat off to one side of Pope John Paul’s casket.
On the other side of the altar sat the representatives of the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and U.S. evangelical communities.
Ten Jewish and 10 Muslim organizations sent delegations, as did Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus.
An estimated 500,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square and the streets surrounding the Vatican. Six hundred thousand other pilgrims watched the funeral on big-screen televisions set up in the main squares of Rome and at a university on the outskirts of the city.
In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said the pope’s life was a constant response to Christ’s call to all believers, “Follow me.”
Even when he was called to enter into “the communion of Christ’s suffering” as he aged and Parkinson’s disease rendered him unable to walk and later unable to speak, Pope John Paul continued to follow, the cardinal said.
“The pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful,” Cardinal Ratzinger said.
As television cameras swung round to the window of the papal apartments, the German cardinal said Pope John Paul had come to the window March 27 to give his solemn Easter blessing to the church and the world, but was not able to get out the words.
“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,” the cardinal said.
“Yes, bless us,” he said as the crowd broke out in loud applause.
In the crowd, Pedro Paul of Caracas, Venezuela, said that in his death Pope John Paul “continues to evangelize. He hasn’t gone yet. He is still guiding us.”
Ryan Moravitz, a seminarian from Duluth, Minn., said, “John Paul II planted the seeds of the new evangelization and even got to water them a bit. It is alive in the church. He helped the faith of the church in a creative, progressive way.”
A nun from Mendoza, Argentina, expressed amazement at the size of the crowd and the atmosphere.
“I’ve never seen so many people together praying,” said Incarnate Word Sister Maria Corredentora.
Members of the crowd, particularly the Poles, waved their national flags, but several banners with slogans were seen as well.
The common message was summed up on one sign: “Sainthood now.”
Two hours before the funeral Mass began, 15 Vatican officials, other priests and the pope’s closest aides gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica to witness Pope John Paul’s body being placed in a cypress casket and closed.
The “rogito,” a document rolled up and placed in a tube, was read before being placed in the casket with the body. It described “the life and the most important works of the deceased pontiff.”
The document said the pope died April 2 at 9:37 p.m.: “The whole church, especially young people, accompanied his passing in prayer.”
“John Paul II was the 264th pope. His memory remains in the heart of the church and of all humanity,” it said.
The document, which included biographical information, said his pontificate of more than 26 years “was one of the longest in the history of the church” and took place during a time of great historical change.
Among the specific themes of his pontificate highlighted in the document were his love for young people; his promotion of dialogue with Jews and with members of other religions; his prayerfulness and devotion to the rosary; and the “wisdom and courage” with which he promoted Catholic doctrine.
Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the camerlengo or chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, explaining the rites to those assembled, said, “We will cover his face with respect and veneration in the deep hope that he can contemplate the face of the Father, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints.”
He then prayed to God, “May his face, on which the light of the world no longer shines, be illuminated forever by the true light that has its inexhaustible source in you.”
“May his face, which is being hidden from our view, contemplate your beauty,” he prayed.
Then Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwicz, the pope’s personal secretary for more than 30 years, and Archbishop Piero Marini, the pope’s master of ceremonies, extended a white silk cloth over his face.
To the applause of the crowd, the pope’s casket—with a simple cross and “M” for Mary on it—was carried by 12 laymen into St. Peter’s Square and placed before the altar, which was not under the canopy usually erected for papal Masses.
Archbishop Marini opened the Book of the Gospels and set it on the casket. A strong wind blew the pages of the Gospel and billowed the chasubles of the concelebrating cardinals.
The Bible readings at the Mass were in Spanish, English and Latin.
The prayers of the faithful at the Mass were recited in French, Swahili, Tagalog, Polish, German and Portuguese.
They included prayers for the eternal repose of the pope’s soul, for the fidelity and renewal of the Catholic Church, for peace and justice in the world, for the souls of all previous popes and all deceased priests, for all the faithful departed and for those gathered at the funeral.
The political dignitaries present at the funeral included King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Britain’s Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Among the U.S. delegates from other Christian churches were Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; John A. Graham of the Billy Graham Organization of Evangelicals; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
At the pope’s funeral, like any Catholic funeral, Communion was followed by the “final commendation and farewell.”
But unlike most Catholic funerals, this funeral’s farewell prayer was followed by the prayers of the church of Rome, which is the pope’s diocese, and by the prayers of the Eastern Catholic churches, their bishops standing before the casket in red and gold, or white, black or magenta vestments.
Then the choir sang, “I believe the Lord is risen and lives, and that one day I, too, will rise with him.”
The funeral ended with the congregation singing, “May the angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival may the martyrs welcome you and lead you to holy Jerusalem.”
The 12 laymen picked up the stretcher and carried the casket toward St. Peter’s Basilica, turning once again to face the crowd.
For more than 15 minutes, the assembly applauded and young people chanted “John Paul” in Italian as the bells of St. Peter’s tolled somberly.
Accompanying the pope’s casket into St. Peter’s for burial were Cardinal Martinez Somalo, three senior cardinals, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, the former secretary of state, the papal vicar of Rome, the assistant secretary of state, the prefect of the papal household, the vice camerlengo and the pope’s closest personal aides.
Representing other Christian communities in the procession to the tomb were Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, primate of the Anglican Communion.
As the procession moved into the grotto under St. Peter’s, psalms were chanted with the response: “May Christ welcome you into paradise.”
In the chapel where the pope was to be buried, a deacon led prayers that God would free Pope John Paul’s soul “from the power of darkness,” forgive his sins, accept his good works, give him peace and allow him to join “the company of saints.”
A simple cross and a bronze plaque with the pope’s name were placed on top of the cypress coffin, which was sealed with red ribbons and placed inside a zinc-lined wooden casket, said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman.
Italy’s main television station, RAI Uno, reported that dirt from the pope’s Polish hometown, Wadowice, was added to the dirt in the chapel where the pope’s casket was laid, but Navarro-Valls said he could not verify the report.
He added that Pope John Paul was buried between the only two women buried in the grotto under the basilica: the 15th-century Queen Charlotte of Cyprus and the 17th-century Queen Christina of Sweden.
Another Vatican spokesman, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, said the burial ceremony ended at 2:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m. EDT).