Ratzinger leads internationaltribute to Pope John Paul II
8 April 2005, VATICAN CITY - The world paid its final tribute on Friday to Pope John Paul II, whose unconditional love for God helped change the course of history, with the ceremony being led by German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
8 April 2005
VATICAN CITY - The world paid its final tribute on Friday to Pope John Paul II, whose unconditional love for God helped change the course of history, with the ceremony being led by German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Heads of state, prime ministers, monarchs, religious leaders, ambassadors and Nobel laureates, as well as more than 1 billion Catholics across the planet took part, in some form or other, in a deeply moving funeral service in St. Peter's Square.
From US President George W. Bush to Iran's Mohammad Khatami, from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to King Abdullah of Jordan, from Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to Britain's Prince Charles, from Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to King Juan Carlos of Spain, never before had such a concentration of world leaders gathered in a single place.
Opposite them, on the basilica's forecourt, was the entire Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. And only a few metres way, on the adjacent square, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Catholics, many of them from the pope's native Poland.
The ceremony, led by German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was accompanied by respectful silence - a silence occasionally broken only by applause or rhythmic calls for John Paul to be made a saint.
Meanwhile, millions of people who had not been able to enter St. Peter's Square followed the rites on giant screens placed in piazzas around the Eternal City. An estimated global audience of over 1 billion were also thought to have seen it live on television.
The three-hour long ceremony opened with a short procession, in which the wooden coffin containing the body of John Paul was carried out of the basilica by 12 pallbearers and placed at the centre of the courtyard outside.
The red cassocks of the 140 cardinals co-celebrating the open-air mass billowed in a chilly breeze as the service got under way, led by Joseph Ratzinger, the doyen of the College of Cardinals.
"On behalf of the College of Cardinals, I wish to express my deferent greeting to the Heads of State and government and to the delegations of the various countries," Ratzinger said during his homily.
"I also send a special salute to the young, who John Paul II loved to describe as the future and hope of the church," he said.
The German cardinal, visibly moved, recalled some of the key moments in Karol Wojtyla's life, from his job in a chemical factory while Poland was under the persecution of Nazism, to his ordination as priest.
He also touched on his election as pope in 1978, the attempt on his life in 1981 and his final years, when age and a number of ailments, including Parkinson's disease, took its toll.
"Our pope, we all know this, had never wanted to save his own life, keep it for himself; he wanted to give himself unconditionally right up to the last moment, for Christ and also for us," Ratzinger said.
The elaborate funeral service, described as one of the biggest in recent history, followed rules set out by John Paul himself in a 1996 document, Universi Dominici Gregis.
"Through his writings he brought a new freshness to Christ's message, said Ratzinger, speaking in Italian. "To us, he remains totally unforgettable".
Hours before the start of the requiem mass, hundreds of thousands of people had streamed into the square to secure a spot for the ceremony. Countless numbers had camped out overnight to be as close as possible for the funeral.
Many waved red-and-white flags. Others brandished a Solidarnosc (Solidarity) banner, a reminder of Karol Wojtyla's role in bringing down the country's communist regime.
Some 100 people were reported to have needed medical treatment, after suffering fainting fits, among them a pregnant woman from Sri Lanka. But none was reported to be in a serious condition.
As Bill Clinton, one of two former US President in Rome put it to NBC television ahead of the ceremony, the pope certainly "knew how to build a crowd".
"Whether I agree or disagree with him, this guy is on my side. He cares about me as a human being - as a child of God. That's what made him great", Clinton said.
Around the Vatican, heavy security was in place to protect the potent from a possible terrorist attack or from the risks of a panic outburst sparked among the multitude of people attending. Snipers were seen on the top of the basilica while police helicopters hovered above.
"We're talking about a sheer unbelievable amount of people," said an Order of Malta volunteer ahead of the ceremony. "Everything is quiet and orderly though."
Pilgrims lucky enough to make it onto St. Peter's Square first needed to pass a security cordon where they were searched for weapons and explosives. Even senior clergy were searched, security sources insist.
After the service, John Paul was to be buried in a crypt underneath St. Peter's, along with other great popes.
Subject: German news