Faithful Set to Bid Pope Farewell; Vatican Releases His Will Prior to Massive Funeral
Byline: John Phillips, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
VATICAN CITY - A funeral service of unprecedented grandeur and solemnity awaited kings, presidents and pilgrims today, who came to say farewell to the religious leader who touched the lives of billions from all faiths.
Pope John Paul II spoke to them all one last time yesterday, when the Vatican released his final will and testament, a deeply personal document in which he voiced his fears for the Church and doubts at his own ability to continue leading.
"I hope He helps me understand until what moment I have to continue in the service to which he called me on October 16, 1978," John Paul wrote in 2000, as the world anticipated the new millennium and his own health was beginning to deteriorate rapidly from the effects of Parkinson's disease.
Hundreds of people bedded down on the streets around the Vatican last night, ready to rush into St. Peter's Square when it opens for the biggest Western religious gathering in modern history this morning.
In front of the 16th-century basilica, a last few thousand pilgrims lined up to view the pope's body lying in state, many of them carrying the red-and-white flag of his native Poland and singing to celebrate the end of 16 hours in line.
"He was the greatest Pole there will ever be. He was our father, our friend, our liberator," said Piotr Buchta, lining up after a 26-hour bus journey from the pope's birthplace, Wadowice.
Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by youths with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up to take the spillover from hotels.
"You really have to love the pope to be willing to do this," said Nathanael Valdenaire, a young Frenchman who slept on the pavement in a sleeping bag alongside his sisters.
The pope's simple wooden coffin will be carried out of St. Peter's Basilica at 10 a.m., where, 26 years ago, Karol Wojtyla first emerged as pontiff to stun the world with his vitality and charisma.
The funeral is to begin with an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who will place a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of his life in the pope's coffin.
John Paul's longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who will lead the liturgical ceremonies, and Archbishop Piero Marini, are to place a white silk veil over the pope's face before the coffin is closed.
The funeral Mass, scheduled to last about 21/2 hours, will be celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, and he will be joined by the cardinals and patriarchs of the Eastern Rite Churches, all in red vestments.
The funeral Mass ends with all standing and together singing: "May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive and lead you to Holy Jerusalem."
Then the prelates leave the altar in procession, carrying the coffin from the basilica down the steps of St. …