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Pilgrims Pack St. Peter’s Square for Mass

April 3, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrated a Mass for the repose of Pope John Paul II’s soul Sunday on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, calling on the tens of thousands of people gathered there to pray for ``our beloved John Paul.″

Applause rang out when Sodano, dressed in golden vestments, prayed for the pope at the start of the Mass.

``We entrust with confidence to the risen Christ, Lord of life and history, our beloved John Paul II who for 27 years guided the universal church as the successor of Peter,″ he said.

Thousands of people streamed toward St. Peter’s Square for the midmorning Mass, joining the faithful who had held an overnight vigil in the plaza after learning of the pope’s death. The traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which John Paul had delivered throughout his 26-year pontificate, was to follow, the Vatican said.

The Mass began with a solemn parade of the College of Cardinals down the steps of the basilica while a choir sang. Each cardinal, dressed in flowing white robes with a golden cross on the chest, kissed the altar before taking his seat.

Pilgrims jammed the plaza and the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading toward it. Flags, banners and rosaries were held aloft, and many mourners had tears in their eyes.

``It’s a historic event,″ said Ercole Ferri, a 72-year-old Roman who proudly showed off a list of the six popes he’s lived through. ``It’s not something sad for me. I think of all that he has done.″

Others though felt sadness, even though John Paul had reportedly urged his aides to feel joy and hope in his final hours.

``Joy, even if everyone feels like an orphan today,″ said Giulia Caiani, an 24-year-old Italian student who spent the night camped out in sleeping bags with friends in the square. ``He was a wonderful guide. We have no guide now, there’s no longer his voice, or his presence.″

The Vatican announced that John Paul died at 9:37 p.m. Rome time Saturday after a long public struggle against debilitating illness. He was 84.

In a statement issued early Sunday, the Vatican said the pope’s body was expected to be brought to St. Peter’s Basilica no earlier than Monday afternoon.

The College of Cardinals is to meet at 10 a.m. Monday in its first gathering before a secret election to be held later this month to choose a successor to John Paul. The cardinals were expected to set a date for his funeral, which the Vatican said was expected between Wednesday and Friday.

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