Pope’s Rituals Open, Moving

Times Staff Writer

The body of Pope John Paul II, his face placid, his pale hands clutching rosary beads, went on televised display Sunday as the Vatican began the long goodbye of a ritual-filled interregnum that will end with the election of his successor.

Fifteen hours after the pope’s death, images from his private wake in the Apostolic Palace flashed around the world from Vatican cameras. Outside, a requiem Mass drew 100,000 worshipers to St. Peter’s Square, where 2 million pilgrims are expected to converge for the Roman Catholic leader’s public wake and funeral this week.

“He died with the serenity of the saints,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano said in his homily at the Mass, recalling his final visit to the 84-year-old John Paul’s deathbed in the papal apartment.

The crowd applauded and some fought back tears when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri read a posthumous appeal he said the pope had prepared -- perhaps one of the last written messages of John Paul’s 26-year reign.


“To humanity, which sometimes seems lost and dominated by the power of evil, egoism and fear, the risen Lord offers as a gift his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens the soul to hope,” it said.

The Vatican released a report Sunday by the pope’s personal physician stating that John Paul had died of septic shock and irreversible cardio-circulatory collapse. It also said he had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, acute breathing problems, heart disease and a benign enlarged prostate complicated by a urinary infection.

Dr. Renato Buzzonetti said he pronounced John Paul dead Saturday night after more than 20 minutes of tests with electrocardiograph equipment.

The prompt release of the report and decision to televise the private wake characterized a pope attuned to the needs of round-the-clock television news programs and the Internet, both born on his watch.

His death had been announced by e-mail from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls to news organizations 15 minutes after the doctor certified it.

“Normally you don’t see the pope’s body until he is laid out in state in St. Peter’s for everyone to see,” said Father Thomas Reese, a Vatican specialist and New York-based editor of the Jesuit magazine America. “Even in death, John Paul was a pope open to the most modern media coverage.”

The College of Cardinals is expected to approve a tentative plan to send the pope’s body to St. Peter’s Basilica for public viewing starting this afternoon.

Mourning for the telegenic, globetrotting evangelist stretched around the world. In his native Poland, 100,000 people filled a square in Warsaw. On the earthquake-ravaged Indonesian island of Nias, a priest led special prayers.

In Paris, the great bell of Notre Dame sounded 84 times, one for each year of John Paul’s life.

Tributes citing his advocacy of peace and human rights poured in from such non-Christian leaders as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; Iranian President Mohammad Khatami; the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists; and Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, an important voice in Sunni Islam.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, whose communist government began warming to religion a little more than a decade ago, declared three days of official mourning.

The Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexy II, who had resisted the pope’s efforts to heal the schism between Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism, acknowledged John Paul’s “great impact on the course of world events.”

Former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who loosened Moscow’s grip on Eastern Europe as John Paul crusaded against communism, said the Berlin Wall would never have fallen without the pope’s influence. He said John Paul “was humanist No. 1 in the world.”

Some of the 117 cardinals who will closet themselves in the Sistine Chapel this month to elect a new pope said Sunday that John Paul’s outreach to other faiths and effect on world events was a precedent to keep in mind.

Cardinal Bernard Panafieu of France said Sunday that he was hoping for someone “who ‘dynamizes’ the people -- God’s people -- as John Paul did [and] at the same time, a man who has an international sense of the opening of Catholicism to the world.”

Other cardinals described their ideal profile for a new pope. But Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said informal discussions about who should succeed John Paul were just beginning.

“Ask me that question 10 days from now,” he told reporters before leaving the U.S. capital. “We are going through our grieving now.”

When the College of Cardinals meets this morning, it will not be to discuss the succession but to plan the funeral. They are to read John Paul’s final instructions, including his choice of a burial place. Most popes are laid to rest in crypts beneath the Basilica, but many Poles hope that he has chosen to be buried in his native country.

The cardinals also will set a date for the funeral and the conclave to vote on a new pope. Under Vatican rules, the conclave must start 15 to 20 days after the pope’s death.

Some of the dozen or so cardinals mentioned as possible successors to John Paul played visible roles in his mourning. Sodano, who was John Paul’s secretary of state at the Vatican, led Sunday’s requiem Mass with assistance from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief.

In keeping with Vatican tradition, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar for Rome and another papal contender, issued a formal announcement of John Paul’s death early Sunday.

The Mass marked the Feast of Divine Mercy, ordained by John Paul onto the church calendar a week after Easter in honor of a Polish nun named Sister Faustina.

“For him to have died on the eve of this particular day is so very moving,” said Steven Ogua, a seminarian from Uganda on the edge of the huge crowd. “That was always his message, a message of mercy.”

In his prepared text of the homily, Sodano called the late pope “John Paul II the Great.” That title was achieved by two previous popes -- Leo I and Gregory I -- along with sainthood, and it is often proposed for John Paul as part of an informal movement to push for his early canonization.

But Sodano did not read those words from the text, perhaps because he felt that the matter of John Paul’s sainthood should best be left to the next pope. Instead, he called the deceased pope “the cantor of the civilization of love.”

After the Mass, Vatican officials, Swiss Guards in plumed helmets and Italian government leaders filed past John Paul’s body in the richly frescoed Clementine Hall, a 17th century salon where popes hold audiences.

Dignitaries took turns offering condolences to the pope’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was seen on television wiping tears from his eyes.

John Paul lay on a bier in crimson vestments and a white bishop’s miter, his head resting on three tan damask pillows. His pastoral staff was tucked under his left arm and his feet were clad in soft brown leather shoes. One Swiss guard stood at attention on either side.

“He looks very much like he did in his good times,” Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, said after the wake. “It was very satisfying for all of us to see him looking so serene.”


Times staff writers Laura King and Larry B. Stammer in Vatican City, Kim Murphy in Moscow and Megan K. Stack in Cairo contributed to this report.