World bids pope farewell

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Presidents, prime ministers and kings joined pilgrims and prelates in St. Peter's Square on Friday to bid farewell to Pope John Paul II at a funeral service that drew millions to Rome for one of the largest religious gatherings of modern times.

Applause rang out as John Paul's plain cypress coffin adorned with a cross and an ''M'' for the Virgin Mary was brought out from St. Peter's Basilica and placed on a carpet in front of the altar. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and the wind lifted the pages.

After the Mass ended, the bells of St. Peter's tolled and 12 pallbearers with white gloves, white ties and tails carried the coffin on their shoulders back inside for burial.

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John Paul requested in his last will and testament to be interred ''in the bare earth,'' and his body will be laid to rest under the floor of the grotto below the basilica, among the remains of pontiffs from centuries past near the tomb traditionally believed to be of the apostle Peter, the first pope.

His tomb will be covered with a flat stone bearing his name and the dates of his birth and death. Pilgrims will eventually be able to visit.

The 2 1/2-hour Mass began with the Vatican's Sistine Choir singing the Gregorian chant, ''Grant Him Eternal Rest, O Lord.'' Cardinals wearing white miters walked onto the square, their red vestments blowing in the breeze.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, presided at the Mass and referred to him as our ''late beloved pope'' in a homily that traced the pontiff's life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to his final days as the head of the world's 1 billion Catholics.

Interrupted by applause at least 10 times, the usually unflappable German-born Ratzinger choked up as he recalled one of John Paul's last public appearances.