By BENEDICTA CIPOLLA, CNS | Published April 14, 2005
In the week following Pope John Paul II’s death, more than 3 million pilgrims descended on Rome to honor the late pontiff, a Vatican statement said.
On April 12 the Vatican press office released a treasure trove of data from April 2, the day the pope died, through April 8, the day of his funeral.
According to final figures from the Italian government, record crowds headed to St. Peter’s Basilica, where Pope John Paul’s body lay in front of the main altar April 4-7, with 21,000 people entering the church every hour, or 350 per minute.
Visitors waited an average of 13 hours to pay their respects; the longest wait was 24 hours, and the longest line was more than three miles.
On April 8, the day of the pope’s outdoor funeral Mass, 500,000 packed St. Peter’s Square and the street leading up to it, with another 600,000 watching the Mass on giant television screens set up near the Vatican and at sites on the outskirts of Rome.
After waiting in endless lines, pilgrims were evidently parched: Volunteers distributed more than 3 million free bottles of water over seven days. With all that water flowing, the 3,600 portable toilets set up around Rome got a workout.
The number of riders on Rome’s already crowded public transportation system increased by 40 percent. Buses and trams carried an additional 1.1 million people per day, and the city’s subway system carried an additional 300,000, with a total of more than 15 million trips above and below ground April 2-8.
All those pilgrims, many from foreign countries who did not speak Italian, needed help at times. The city of Rome’s information line responded to 20,000 calls per day, up from a daily average of 8,000, with operators answering queries in English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic. City officials distributed 400,000 flyers with useful information for tourists, and 20 series of text messages with updates on traffic were relayed to 43,500 Romans who signed up for the service.
The weary and the sick took advantage of first aid stations more than 4,000 times. Rome ordered an extra 100 ambulances to handle the influx following the pope’s death.
On hand were 8,000 volunteers, 12,000 security and public order personnel, 2,700 local police officers, 1,000 firefighters, six helicopters, and 400 soldiers to help manage the crowds and any possible snafu.
Journalists contributed to a portion of the influx. More than 6,000 accreditations have been issued since April 2.
While the Vatican statement said it was impossible to count exactly the number of radio and television stations that broadcast the April 8 funeral, 80 channels transmitted from European Broadcasting Union positions, and 137 television stations from 81 countries informed the Pontifical Council for Social Communications that they carried the Mass.
Vatican Radio broadcast live in seven languages. The Vatican Web site’s live video stream offered an alternative to television for 1.3 million people.
At the funeral, 157 cardinals concelebrated the Mass, and an additional 700 bishops and 3,000 prelates were present. Communion was likely difficult to receive for most in attendance: 300 priests were on hand to distribute, with a ratio of 1 priest to 1,700 faithful.
Among the 169 foreign delegations were 10 royal sovereigns, 59 heads of state, 17 heads of government, and dozens of ministers and ambassadors. Twenty-three Orthodox and eight Protestant delegations attended, as well as Jewish, Muslim and other non-Christian communities.