.- Over 500,000 people came to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II during the first night of viewing in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope lies in state near the Altar of Confession, where he was placed on Monday at 5pm after being carried in procession from the Clementine Hall. The beginning of public viewing by the faithful was moved up from 9pm to 8pm as the lines grew so long they crossed St. Peter’s Square and stretched down the long avenue leading up to the Vatican.
The uninterrupted flow of people continued throughout the night and into the morning. Each person on average waited about eight hours to get in to the Basilica. The Vatican had originally planned to close the Basilica from 2am to 5am for routine cleaning but because of the large crowds it will only be closed from 3am to 4:15am.
During the brief pause last night, police distributed water and blankets to the elderly and to children who were among the pilgrims.
By Tuesday morning more than 500,000 people had filed through St. Peter’s.
The Pope lies in state facing the entrance of the Basilica in a slightly inclined position so that he can be seen by the faithful. Eight Swiss Guard soldiers flank the Pope in a reverent display of honor and protection.
Dressed in a red chasuble, the Pope’s hands are folded across his chest and are holding his wooden rosary. Under his right arm is his staff with the image of Nervi’s Crucified Christ, which became the undeniable symbol of his pontificate.
The Pope’s face, while thinned and consumed by the last days of suffering, appears serene nonetheless. “It looks like he’s sleeping,” remarked a number of visitors.