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A HUGE OUTPOURING FOR POPE
MOURNERS CONVERGE TO PAY FINAL RESPECTS

In death, as in his extraordinary life, Pope John Paul II drew a crowd as perhaps no one else could.

Mourners lined up thousands deep Monday in St. Peter's Square to get a final glimpse of a pontiff who revolutionized the papacy through his world travels and rock-starlike following. The huge crowd is expected to grow throughout the week.

Vatican officials opened the doors of St. Peter's Basilica for a public viewing after a ritual blessing, with holy water, of the Holy Father's body, which was wrapped in a flowing, deep-red robe.

The blessing ceremony inside was broadcast on 15-foot-tall television screens in the square. Tens of thousands of people, many of whom had waited for hours outside, inched into the basilica for the viewing, as a hazy sun set behind the church's massive dome.

A group of Polish women carried small flags from their homeland. Another Polish woman walked with a large basket of more than a dozen roses, hoping to place them near the pope's casket.

Poles felt deep affection for their native son, the father figure who helped cast aside a curtain of oppressive communism.

Other mourners traveled from well beyond Europe. A couple of teenage girls from El Salvador held aloft a terry cloth flag of their nation, reminding people of how far John Paul II's appeal extended.

Mario Luzzeri and his children scheduled their trip from London to Rome a month ago. They wanted to see the Holy Father alive, if only gesturing to the crowd from his Vatican apartment. They did not arrive until Sunday morning.

"He tried his best to make a better world," said Luzzeri, a native of Milan.

Mariano Grimaldi arrived in the square at about 6:15 p.m. and was not sure he would get to view the pontiff, given his distance a couple of track fields from the basilica.

"I think it's impossible," he said. "We try."

Instead of joining the throngs, some visitors ducked inside a full Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia nearby for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and recitation of the rosary -- two of John Paul II's favorite spiritual activities.

Euro coins clicked in the ancient church's votive boxes as people offered devotions and lighted candles.

Earlier in the day, selected religious men and women and employees of the Vatican participated in a private viewing of the pope in Clementine Hall.

"Many people didn't say, 'Goodbye.' They said, 'Thank you,' " said Sister Mary Marta Ziewinska, a Felician nun from Poland who works in Rome.

Praying the rosary while climbing a long flight of stairs into the hall, they, too, waited for hours.

"For a second of being there, . . . it was worth it," said Sister Celestine Giertych, also a Felician in Rome.

"He was a very saintly person, so in life, you always wanted to be close to him," Giertych said. "Even in death, you wanted to be closer to him, so you could absorb some of that sanctity."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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