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PILGRIMS' SACRIFICE REWARDED
LONG WAIT PRECEDES INCOMPARABLE EVENT

Pope John Paul II often used the term pilgrimage to describe Catholics who traveled great distances and sacrificed comforts for an experience of faith.

His admirers took it to heart.

Eschewing sleep and meals, pilgrims descend in unprecedented numbers upon this ancient city of stony walkways and grand edifices.

Philippines natives Angie De Paz, 43, and Georgia Herrera, 46, said they waited in line 12 1/2 hours for a brief moment with the "People's Pope."

Both burst into tears upon seeing the pontiff, known in Italy simply as "Papa." Herrera got down on one knee and placed her right hand over her heart as she said a prayer in St. Peter's Basilica.

"Something's lost in Italy," said De Paz, who moved to Rome 22 years ago. "I hope that the new pope can be like this pope."

John Paul II's head rests on three velvet pillows. He is surrounded by four Swiss guards and dozens of lighted candles. Viewers proceed in hushed silence in two directions, getting no closer than 20 feet from his body, which is behind a roped area.

Many mourners stop for snapshots with their camera cell phones even as ushers try to hurry people through.

De Paz and Herrera said they never got a chance to sit down during their glacially slow procession. Both still planned to go to work afterwards.

At side altars in the basilica and at various spots in St. Peter's Square and along Via della Conciliazione, pilgrims leave behind burning votive candles, floral bouquets and notes addressed "Ciao Papa" and "Al Santo Padre." One couple placed a picture of themselves and their infant on an altar rail.

Aleksandra Przespolewska, a university student, was among the two million Poles expected to arrive in Rome in time for Friday's funeral.

She and seven friends drove a day and a half in a van and spent six hours in line to view the pope.

"I'm 22 years old, and I remember John Paul II being the pope all my life," she said. "I'm very grateful for him helping Poland gain independence. I just wanted to say 'thank you.' This is the only way to say goodbye to John Paul."

Przespolewska said her country's churches are overflowing with mourners, and youth have been marching in the streets in honor of the pope.

"All the news is completely concentrated on the death of the pope. There's almost no other news besides the news of the pope," she said.

She and her friends planned to camp out overnight to attend the funeral. Charitable workers began handing out brown blankets Tuesday night as temperatures dipped into the low 40s.

Many pilgrims made no arrangements beforehand for lodging.

Monsignor Gregory N. Smith, who is studying canon law in Rome during a sabbatical from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, returned to the city Monday morning after a short trip back to Canada and was stunned by the swelling crowds.

"I came back completely unprepared for this. I did not anticipate this enormous outpouring of international affection in this way," said Smith.

The priest said he had experienced a huge papal crowd before at World Youth Day in Denver, but nothing like what he was seeing here.

"This is a well-earned tribute, and it really does speak to the enormous influence of this pope," Smith said. "This is really proof positive that he was the people's pope."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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