"I am completely in your hands" Pope John Paul II , Last Will and Testament
With Pope John Paul II laid to rest, attention now turns to the qualities of the next pontiff
VATICAN CITY--Amid the mighty and the millions and with the full pomp of the Roman Catholic Church that John Paul II led for more than a quarter of a century, the funeral mass for the pontiff took place in front of St. Peter's Basilica under a lightly clouded sky. Applause erupted from the huge crowd--around 300,000 packed into the square and the broad boulevard running down to the Tiber River, and millions more in nearby Roman neighborhoods--as 12 pontifical chair bearers bore his simple wooden coffin, inscribed with the initial M for Mary, from the basilica and placed it on a large Persian carpet in front of the altar. Following behind were the cardinals, the princes of the church, who took their seats behind the altar, joining other church hierarchy as well as presidents (including George W. Bush, his father, and former President Bill Clinton), prime ministers, and leaders of other religions flanking the ceremonial space. As the choir chanted a Gregorian chant, "Grant him eternal rest, O Lord," a red, leatherbound book of the Gospels was placed on the coffin, the sometimes stiff breeze tossing its pages.
The chief celebrant of the mass, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals and considered to be one of the possible papal successors, recalled in his homily the spiritual challenges and turning points of Karol Wojtyla's life. "The holy father was a priest to the last," he said, "for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family in a daily self-oblation for the service of the church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months." Afterward, the coffin was taken to the grotto of the basilica and placed beneath the floor not far from where John XXIII lay until his remains were moved upstairs upon beatification. Many of the pilgrims who journeyed to Rome urged with chants and signs that John Paul II receive that recognition for his own saintly life.
The papal burial brought to an end one part of the elaborate transition ritual that now moves into its next phase, the election and installation of John Paul's successor. Unfolding amid a spontaneous populist celebration of the pope's life that has surprised Vatican and Roman officials by its size, the period of the papal interregnum has dramatized the accomplishments--but also some shortcomings--of John Paul II's 26-year reign, even while suggesting the major challenges that await the church. Those challenges will loom particularly large in the minds of the 117 cardinal-electors when they assemble in the Sistine Chapel on April 18 to select the 265th supreme pontiff. During the papacy of John Paul II, the church became truly global, and the cardinals are likely to consider how that new dynamic might influence their voting on the next pontiff. They will look to build on the pope's legacy while seeking to reflect the changing needs of the church.
A pope of the people. Attesting to the astonishing popularity of Karol Wojtyla the man, the crowds that overflowed St. Peter's Square in the hours before his death grew further in the days that followed. After a Sunday morning mass in the square attended by tens of thousands, one cluster of young Italians held hands as they circled six guitarists, performing a graceful dance while singing spiritual folk tunes. Hundreds more gathered around them, singing and clapping in accompaniment. Nearby, a group of Latin Americans--some Peruvian, some Argentine--sat in concentric circles as they recited prayers in Spanish. A small band of nuns and priests from Mozambique simply held hands and talked about the man whose evangelizing efforts had revitalized the church in Africa.