ROME – The body of Pope John Paul II, dressed in red vestments, a white bishop’s miter on his head, lay in state Sunday at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace during a private ceremony for senior church officials and government dignitaries.

The man who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter of a century was laid out on a simple cloth-draped catafalque in front of a fireplace. His head rested on golden pillows; his hands were folded across his chest and a silver bishop’s crosier was tucked under his left arm. Two Swiss Guards stood at attention beside the body.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi led the dignitaries who filed past to pay their respects, and television cameras inside the palace’s ornate Clementine Hall gave the world the first images of the beloved pontiff since his death Saturday evening.

The pope’s death certificate, released Sunday by the Vatican, confirmed what was widely known: The 84-year-old pontiff, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and a variety of other ailments, succumbed to septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse. The death was certified after an electrocardiogram registered no heartbeat for 20 minutes.

Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a requiem Mass, and afterward, during the traditional noontime homily, the words read by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri had a familiar ring:

“To all humanity, which today seems lost and dominated by the power of evil and selfishness and fear, our resurrected Lord gives us his love which forgives, reconciles and reopens the soul to hope.”

Sandri, who often spoke for Pope John Paul II when the ailing pontiff’s strength failed him, said the text had been prepared by the pope before his death. Sandri said he was reading it “with such honor, but also nostalgia.”

As the faithful lingered in the vast piazza, they created scores of makeshift shrines, placing candles, flowers, holy pictures, rosaries, photographs of the pope and scribbled messages at the base of nearly every lamppost.

Some mourners knelt in solitary silence while others gathered in groups and prayed and sang boisterously. Giant television screens set up in front of St. Peter’s Basilica replayed scenes from the epic papacy of John Paul II.

“He has meant so much to me that I find it difficult to express in words,” said Monica Franczyk, a 32-year old Pole who lives in Italy. “I have often thought that I would have loved him and been devoted to him even if he hadn’t been Polish. He reminded me of my grandfather. The same smile and joyful character. He was there for you.”

Halyna Bulczak, 34, another Pole living in Italy, got her three daughters up at dawn to travel from Arezzo to Rome, a journey of 140 miles.

“For me and my daughters, this is a very special trip, to pay tribute to Pope John Paul,” she said. “My husband died nine months ago. My father is very ill and will soon die. When I look up to heaven, it is there where I will find them all.”

Young couples pushed baby strollers up the Via Conciliazione, the wide boulevard leading to St. Peter’s. Others, mainly teenagers, used the cameras on their mobile phones to record the scene for friends at home.

For many Romans, the end of one papacy and the anticipation of the next one is an important civic rite that links them to the history of their city, a moment rich in pomp and pageantry. For others, the occasion is more spiritual.

“I would think less about religion and the spirit (if it were not for Pope John Paul),” said Manuela Bortollotti, 48, who attended the requiem mass. “He has marked my life. He developed my Christian soul, by transmitting his love and serenity.”

The morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who, as the Vatican’s secretary of state, was second only to the pope but automatically loses that position with the pope’s death. He, along with a dozen or so other top curial officials, is considered a potential papal successor.

“Our soul is shocked by a painful event,” Sodano told the faithful. “We entrust with confidence to the risen Christ, Lord of life and history, our beloved John Paul II who for 27 years guided the universal church as the successor to St. Peter.”

Vatican observers were quick to note that the written text of Sodano’s homily referred to the deceased pope as “John Paul the Great,” a title reserved for popes who are expected to be recognized as saints. But Sodano did not use the title when he delivered the homily, and the Vatican offered no explanation. The written text is considered the official text.

Many of the church’s 183 cardinals from around the world already have gathered in Rome. On Monday they will assemble in what is called a general congregation, their first meeting before the conclave that will elect a new pope later this month. Only the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 attend the conclave and cast votes.

The general congregation will begin making arrangements for the funeral that will be held in St. Peter’s Square within three to five days. An announcement on the day is expected Monday.

Later on Monday, the pope’s body will be moved to St. Peter’s Basilica, where it will lie in state until the funeral.

Crowd-pleaser

During his lifetime, the pope displayed a remarkable ability to draw a crowd. He was probably seen in the flesh by more people than anyone else in history. In death, the drawing power remains, and Italian officials are bracing for the arrival of up to 2 million visitors for the funeral.

The Italian Cabinet held an emergency session Sunday to discuss preparations while the Civil Protection Department began making plans to provide medical assistance, food, water, temporary shelter and shuttle buses for the anticipated influx.

“We are expecting between 1 million and 2 million pilgrims in Rome, but we can’t really predict how many will arrive,” said Italian Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli. Security also will be a major concern as dozens of world leaders descend on Rome for the funeral.

President Bush is likely to attend the funeral, but the White House said Sunday it was delaying any announcement for protocol reasons, since the Vatican had not yet disclosed funeral arrangements.

No announcement has been made about where the pope will be buried. Most popes choose to be interred in the crypt beneath St. Peter’s main altar, and it is expected that John Paul will follow this tradition.

But the first Polish pope, who on his deathbed surrounded himself with fellow Poles, may have chosen to be laid to rest in his homeland. The pope would have made his wishes known in his will, but the Vatican has not commented on whether he left any instructions for his funeral or burial.

Next pope

During the interregnum between the pope’s death and the election of his successor, all but the most essential of the Vatican’s business grinds to a halt. Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the camerlengo, or papal chamberlain, assumes control of the day-to-day business of the Vatican, but ultimate authority passes to the College of Cardinals.

The cardinals are not supposed to discuss the election of the next pope until they begin their secret deliberation in the conclave that must commence within 15 to 20 days of the pope’s death. But inevitably, they do.

Even as they eulogize one of the most remarkable popes in the church’s 2,000-year history, the process of selecting his successor is already under way.

The real action won’t begin until the old pope is buried, but in quiet conversations, the cardinals are taking the measure of each other, deciding who among them will be chosen.



(Chicago Tribune special correspondent Alessandra Maggiorani contributed to this report.)


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.