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Rome Remembers Pope John Paul II

April 4, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Hoisting children onto their shoulders and holding cherished photos, tens of thousands stood silently shoulder-to-shoulder Sunday at a Mass for the late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. Gradually, though, tears gave way to fond memories.

Some people had camped out in sleeping bags overnight on the cobblestones. Underfoot were melted candles and flower petals left during the vigil.

As an organ sounded the first notes of Mass, many people held up cameras to photograph the ceremony on the marble steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Some clutched photos of the pope as a younger, more energetic man, before illness left him grimacing and stooped. In them, he beamed, blessed babies or led processions with a golden staff. Each time the giant screens lining the colonnades showed a close-up of John Paul’s picture, the crowd applauded.

``Even if we fear we’ve lost a point of reference, I feel like everybody in this square is united with him in a hug,″ said Luca Ghizzardi, 38, a nurse with a sleeping bag and a handmade peace flag at his feet.

Police said about 80,000 people attended Mass, with about 20,000 more spilling into the surrounding boulevards. Around the Vatican, bike riders in spandex and sleek helmets stopped to peer past the colonnades at the crowd. First aid staff readied stretchers, and sniffer dogs checked trash cans. Guides holding up umbrellas led tourists to the square’s edge.

Emergency health services said late Sunday that they were called to assist the faithful in St. Peter’s Square 115 times during the day. Most of the injuries were cuts and broken bones from people who had fallen or fainted. Three of the cases were life threatening, officials said.

Inside the piazza, the commotion came to a standstill. Michela Scrocca, a 44-year-old teacher, gazed at the windows of John Paul’s former apartments, which people had watched for signs during his final hours. She asked herself who would live there next.

``We will surely have affection for the next one as well, but this (pope) will stay in our hearts,″ she said.

German tourist Katja Raithel, 29, reminisced about childhood Easter meals, when her mother made the family keep silent as they listened to the pope’s Mass on the radio.

A 78-year-old man came to say goodbye to John Paul partly on behalf of his wife, who is in a wheelchair. Giorgio Arduini said he was not a practicing Roman Catholic but deeply felt the pope’s suffering.

``He made the church more human, closer to the real people,″ he said.

The most emotional moment of the day was when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the Vatican undersecretary of state, read the traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which John Paul had delivered throughout his pontificate.

Some in the crowd sucked in their breath, bowed their heads or fought back tears when Sandri announced that John Paul had prepared the prayer before dying. There was extended applause, and then came the pontiff’s familiar words of greeting: ``Dear brothers and sisters...″

For days, St. Peter’s has filled and emptied repeatedly with news of John Paul’s worsening health. A day earlier, tens of thousands fell silent when a Vatican official announced that he had died at 84. Then they started to clap. Many wept, and a group of youths began to sing, ``Hallelujah, he will rise again.″

Vatican officials later led somber pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in a rosary prayer interspersed with readings on the Resurrection from the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Earlier Sunday, a text message began circulating on cell phones, asking people to light candles in their windows.

``May they light up the road to God for him, the way he did for us during 27 years,″ the message said.

Some Romans followed through, and city hall hung posters showing a white-clad John Paul.

``Rome mourns and salutes its pope,″ they read.

One Italian college student who stayed at St. Peter’s into the night summed up his mixed feelings with a list scrawled in a notebook. Sitting cross-legged among lit candles, he wrote down words that came into his head. ``Silence, joy, melancholy, prayer, gaiety, spirit, happiness, abandonment,″ were some.

``It’s useless to cry,″ said Simone Bellato, 22. ``We must concentrate on feeling joy. The pope has returned to his father’s house.″

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Associated Press reporter Annalisa Grossi contributed to this report.

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