ActivePaper Archive Two million people likely at largest funeral ever - Irish Independent 1905-current, 04/04/2005

Two million people likely at largest funeral ever


A Cuban woman wipes tears from her eyes while attending Mass for the pope at the Cathedral of Havana yesterday, while two Polish girls (right) pray in Zakopane, Poland.


AT least two million people, and what is expected to be a record showing from heads of state, are likely to make the Pope’s funeral later this week, the largest ever ceremony of its kind.

Vatican officials organising the solemn and highly elaborate ceremony believe it cannot be held before Thursday.

The Pope’s lengthy illness has given the Holy See considerable time to think ahead about how to organise an event which was previously considered by Vatican officials as bad taste to discuss publicly.

The Camerlengo, or chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo < the 78-year-old Spanish prelate effectively in charge of the Vatican until a new pope is elected at the conclave of cardinals < is arranging the funeral in accordance with the Pope’s wishes.

He is the man who formally ascertained the death of John Paul and filled in the death certificate, breaking the pontiff’s ring and seal and sealing off his private study and bedroom in his apartment above St Peter’s Square afterwards.

The Pope’s body has been dressed and yesterday it was displayed to the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Roman Curia, the central government of the Church.

He will be laid out in St Peter’s Basilica today for the faithful to file past and venerate as they see fit.

The La Stampa daily newspaper reported that the Pope’s body will not be embalmed to prevent decay during its veneration.

The newspaper quoted the Rome mortuary technician dealing with John Paul II’s body before burial, Massimo Signoracci, as saying he will treat the cadaver with ‘‘a light ‘preservation’ with injections”.

Mr Signoracci is the heir to the two famed Signoracci brothers who dealt with the corpses of popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I.

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, will preside over the Missa Poenitentialis ceremony to be celebrated by all other “Princes of the Church”.

According to Holy See protocol, which is rigidly adhered to in the tiny Vatican City state, so as to ensure continuity between popes, the funeral marks the start of the Novendial, or nine days of funeral celebrations and mourning.

The apostolic Constitution, the Universi Dominici Gregis, set up by the Pope himself in 1996, states that the funeral is to ‘‘take place, e x c e p t f o r s p e c i a l r e a s o n s , between the fourth and sixth day after death”.

St Peter’s Square and surrounding streets were blocked off yesterday, with traffic snarled in surrounding districts for hours as tens of thousands of ordinary Romans, pilgrims and tourists attended an outdoor suffrage Mass for John Paul.

The manner in which the day unfolded underlined the logistical headaches facing authorities in the Eternal City in preparing for the funeral itself.

A special mixed commission is being set up between the Holy See and the Italian state to manage the event.

Early predictions were that at least two million people would attend the funeral.

Italian newspapers noted that immediately after John Paul’s death, the Vatican got off to a quick start with the formal rites traditionally carried out after a pontiff expires.

After the funeral, the Polish Pope’s body will be closed inside a coffin with an outer wall of walnut, a middle lining of lead and a third, interior lining of cypress wood.

In the past there has been intermittent speculation that John Paul II might have wanted to be buried at the Wawel Cathedral at Krakow in his homeland.

But Vatican sources say that he almost certainly will be buried in the grotto under St Peter’s Basilica where nearly all pontiffs have been laid to rest. (C Independent News Service)