Thousands Fill Rome to See Pope

As the Pope's body lies in the basilica, more than 100,000 pilgrims, tourists and travellers all have been lining up this morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff.

Published 05 April 2005



The streets around the Vatican are continuously being filled with tens of thousands of people waiting to view the body of Pope John Paul II lying in state in St Peter’s Basilica.

As his body lies in the basilica, more than 100,000 pilgrims, tourists and travellers all have been lining up this morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff. Some travelled and waited for hours and others came early on Tuesday before work.

Church leaders and Vatican staff have already paid their respects over the two days as the Pope’s body lay on display in the Clementine Hall. The Pope’s body was carried in solemn procession to the basilica on late Monday afternoon where it will be interred in the crypt on Friday.

St. Peter’s square has barely had time to close each night die to the huge public crowd with most waiting for hours to enter the basilica. The basilica stayed open until 0300 (0100 GMT) on Tuesday and reopened an hour and a half later. Some elderly mourners fainted because the wait was so long and others sang to pass the time.

"All my life he has been with me in my darkest moments," Marcella Sogos, 36, told Reuters news agency, having flown in from Sardinia.

"I would wait forever to see him... I didn't want to miss it, just like I wouldn't want to miss my own father's funeral."

"He sacrificed his whole life for the Church, so a few hours mean nothing," said Sister Simone, a nun from Austria.

Nearly 200 foreign dignitaries will attend the funeral this Friday including US President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Rome expects a total of two million mourners on Friday, and the gathering is expected to be one of the largest of world leaders in history.

Accommodation is becoming one of the main problems in Rome and makeshift shelters are being set up at sports grounds as all hotels have already been booked. Travel agents in Poland, the land of the Pope’s birth, are struggling to meet demands for transport to Italy.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day running of the Church is being dealt with by cardinals until the new pope is elected at a conclave later on this month. Though nearly 200 cardinals are involved in the consultations, only 117 of them are under the age of 80 and entitled to a vote.

65 cardinals met in Rome on Monday for about two and a half hours and set the funeral for 1000 (0800 GMT) on Friday.

John Paul II had been ill and frail for years and died after suffering from heart and kidney problems and unstable blood pressure. He was born in Karol Wojtyla and became Pope in 1978. During his 26-year papacy, he visited more than 120 countries and took a strong stand on many big issues such as contraception and "liberation theology."

A worldwide television audience of two billion people - believed to be the biggest ever - is expected to watch the Pope's funeral on Friday, and virtually every country will be represented by their heads of state or most senior politicians

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