In death, as in life, he mesmerized the world. Pope John Paul II was laid in a plain cypress coffin Friday and eulogized on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica in a grand funeral that drew millions of pilgrims and leaders from all corners of the Earth.
The Polish-born pontiff, whose death April 2 ended the third-longest papacy in history, was then buried quietly in a marble crypt below the church, the place of rest for many of John Paul's predecessors through the ages.
In a long ceremony of resplendent ritual and emotional homage, priests blessed the pope's remains and celebrated his life before the global elite that often courted him and the common folk who adored him.
The funeral Mass was punctuated by frequent applause, a sign of respect here, and signs and chants demanding John Paul be declared a saint: "Santo Subito!" "Sainthood Now!" Others waved red and white flags from the pope's homeland and chanted "Polska, Polska"; still others chanted his name: "Giovanni Paolo!" "John Paul!"
All of this might have seemed unusual for such a solemn occasion, but it pointed to the popular appeal of the 20th century's most influential pope.
German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals and a close confidant of John Paul, led the service, which opened with Gregorian chants and closed with the peal of church bells. He remembered the youth who came of age in Nazi-occupied Poland and the sharp intellect who chose the priesthood in Krakow.
"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality," said Ratzinger, often mentioned as a candidate to be the next pope. "Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude."
At the conclusion of the public portion of the ceremony, 12 white-gloved pallbearers lifted the wooden casket to their shoulders, strode to the massive portals of St. Peter's Basilica, then turned back toward the crowd to allow a final goodbye.
Inside the church, cardinals in blood-red vestments formed an honor guard in the nave. Each removed his skullcap as the coffin was carried past, then into the grottoes below.
"It was total silence," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles recalled. "After the Holy Father had passed by and everybody had left, we [cardinals] turned to go back to take our vestments off, and no one said a word."
Only members of the papal household and a handful of senior prelates accompanied John Paul into the crypt. The coffin was sealed in red ribbon, encased in a zinc container and then placed into another wooden casket, the Vatican said.
About 2:20 p.m., the coffin was lowered into a grave, which was covered with a marble slab, the Vatican said. This was in keeping with the pope's wishes, handwritten in the margins of his last will and testament, to be interred "in the ground" as a sign of humility, and not in the ornately carved, aboveground sarcophagi that popes traditionally choose.
John Paul was buried in the same tomb used by Pope John XXIII until he was transferred to a more public part of the church following his beatification in 2000.
Earlier, as the requiem Mass got underway, the Sistine Chapel choir sang hymns and readers recited selections from the Bible. Sunlight broke through clouds in a blue-silver sky while a brisk wind whipped the cassocks and vestments of the gathered prelates. Later, the skies grew darker.
A tapestry portraying the resurrection of Christ hung above the massive church portals.
Ratzinger's homily was interrupted at least 10 times by applause, notably when he mentioned the pope's dedication to the young and his public struggle with disability and death.
Ratzinger recalled one of the final appearances of the pope at his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square, on Easter Sunday, when he struggled mightily to bless the crowds below, but was no longer able to speak.
Gesturing toward the still-shuttered apartment window, Ratzinger said: "We can be sure that our beloved pope is now at the window of the house of the Father, and he sees us and he blesses us."
Ratzinger's sermon focused on Jesus' words to Peter, the apostle who became the first pope. Jesus asked Peter to follow him and to care for his flock, essentially installing him in the long line of men who would become the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
"Dost thou love me? In that case, feed my flock," Ratzinger quoted Jesus as telling Peter. And like Peter, Ratzinger said, Karol Wojtyla was called to tend the flock and had now returned to Christ.
The funeral, which lasted about seven hours including the private portions, was one of the largest such gatherings in the West in modern times. The size of the crowds rivaled some of the huge audiences John Paul drew on his many travels to places like the Philippines.
The humble and haughty, the powerful and penitent, European royalty, queens in black veils, Arab sheiks in flowing robes, Latin presidents in business suits — they sat in front rows arrayed in the 17th century piazza. To the back, pilgrims, backpackers and the Roman faithful, young and old, jostled for space.
Also in attendance was a remarkable collection of other faiths. Leaders of the Eastern Orthodox church, senior Jewish rabbis and Muslim clerics joined representatives of every Christian denomination, testament to John Paul's ability to reach across traditional lines of religious demarcation.
Official delegations represented more than 70 countries, from Afghanistan to, controversially, Zimbabwe, whose leaders are the target of European Union sanctions. President Bush led the American delegation, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to attend a papal funeral. He was one of the last dignitaries to be escorted to his seat, where he and his wife, Laura, were placed in the second row next to President Jacques Chirac of France. King Juan Carlos I of Spain was in front of them with Queen Sofia.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he shook hands with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and they chatted in Farsi.
The Israeli then greeted another leader of an enemy state, Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syria confirmed a handshake, Reuters news agency reported.
Upon his return to Iran, however, Khatami denied any encounter, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.
Cardinals who will meet later this month to select John Paul's successor sat behind the altar, facing the coffin and the crowds, while bishops in purple filled front rows to the left of the square. Two cardinals arrived in wheelchairs.
Friday marked the first of nine days of official mourning.
On April 18, the cardinals will sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel. There are 117 men eligible to vote, by virtue of being under age 80. But one, Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines, is sick and may not attend the meeting, known as a conclave.
It is a solemn moment of great responsibility, the cardinals say.
"I do think it's a moment for which I've been born, if I can put that in a providential sense," Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit said. "That's why I'm here, and I pray to God that we come together and provide for the future of the Catholic Church."
John Paul, 84, who died following many illnesses and after more than 26 years in office, had lain in state inside the basilica since Monday, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Before the public ceremony began Friday morning, a private ritual unfolded. The pope's loyal Polish secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, draped a white silk veil on the dead man's face and uttered a prayer asking that he see the eternal light and the face of Christ. The custom has not been used for centuries and was a throwback to times when the heads of bishops were wrapped in white cloth.
Dziwisz was joined by Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of liturgical ceremonies. Inside the coffin, they placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scroll recounting the pontiff's life.
The pallbearers, known as the Papal Gentlemen, carried John Paul's tapered coffin from inside the basilica to the steps. Made of blond cypress and emblazoned with a simple cross and the letter M for the Virgin Mary, the coffin was set on an ornate silk carpet. The audience stood and applauded.
Marini placed a red copy of the scriptures on the coffin. Liturgy requires that wind blow the pages to show the presence of the Holy Spirit. (The wind was strong, however, and soon the book had to be closed.) Ratzinger struck a tone that was reverential but also familiar and more emotional than expected of the man known as the hard-line enforcer of church doctrine.
To give Communion, 323 priests fanned out through the multitude toward the end of the service.
Along with traditional elements, the funeral also reflected themes of importance to John Paul, such as the universality of the Catholic Church. The late pope dedicated much of his pontificate to extending the reach of the church, through his savvy use of media and 104 worldwide trips.
To underline the idea of universality, officiants read prayers and biblical passages in more than a dozen languages. And prelates from the Eastern Rite churches blessed John Paul's remains with incense and sang ancient prayers.
The funeral was broadcast live on television all over the world, including on the Arabic Al Jazeera satellite network.
"To me he was as Jesus was — he walked among the people and spoke to them," said Federica Casani, who joined a huge jostling crowd at Rome's main Termini station as she tried to catch a train home to Tuscany after the funeral. "He opened the church to everybody."
Security was tight Friday but somewhat discreet. A helicopter flew overhead during the funeral, and metal detectors were installed at some distance from the square (even a few bishops in full regalia had to be cleared).
About three hours after the funeral ended, Italian F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to force the landing of a "suspicious" plane at Rome's Ciampino Airport after reports that a bomb might be aboard, the Italian news agency ANSA said. But it turned out to be an executive jet en route to pick up the president of Macedonia and his delegation.
Only a fraction of the mourners were able to cram themselves into St. Peter's Square; the Via della Conciliazione, which runs from the piazza to the Tiber River; and nearby bridges. The rest were watching on enormous screens set up all over Rome.
"I had to bid farewell to the pope," said Adam Pietrzak, one of thousands of Poles who came for the funeral. He managed to squeeze into St. Peter's Square at 5 a.m. "It will be difficult to replace him. I am 26 and the pope has been on the throne for [nearly] 27 years, so for me the pope means John Paul II."
Times staff writer Larry B. Stammer contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times