.- Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world spent the night outside St. Peter’s Basilica near the walls that surround Vatican City in anticipation of the Funeral Mass for John Paul II. Elsewhere more than five thousand spent the night at Tor Vergata and at other facilities set aside by Italian authorities. A large portion of those who arrived came from the Pope’s own homeland of Poland.
By 7am pilgrims were allowed into St. Peter’s Square, and hundreds of policemen and firefighters set up barriers to provide order and security. Traffic was reduced or stopped along the streets leading up to the Vatican, and helicopters patrolled from the air providing vital crowd-control information to officials on the street.
70,000 people packed into St. Peter’s Square by the time the funeral began, with an additional 400,000 people in the streets surrounding the Vatican. Those outside St. Peter’s followed the Mass on six gigantic TV screens. Many waved their flags and some held signs with expressions of devotion for the deceased Pontiff, including several which read, “Saint Soon.”
Along the avenue leading up to St. Peter’s, make-shift shrines to John Paul II have been set up, with children leaving pictures and messages dedicated to the Pontiff, thousands of candles placed up and down the avenue, and signs expressing thanks to John Paul II for his witness of love and faith.
At 9am the body of the Pope was placed in a wooden coffin, and the master of liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, and the Pope's private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, placed a white silk cloth over the Pope's face. Then the camerlengo, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo blessed the body with holy water. Then the coffin was sealed, in the presence of several official witnesses: the Camerlengo, Cardinal Martinez Somalo; the archpriest of the Vatican basilica, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano; the vicar of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini; the former Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; his sostituto or deputy, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri; the prefect of the papal household, Bishop James Michael Harvey.
Shortly after the foreign dignitaries and heads of states took their places to the right of the altar in front of St. Peter’s, with the cardinals processing in and then seated behind the altar facing the square.