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ELABORATE FUNERAL CAPS EPIC PAPACY
U.S. CARDINAL OFFERS ADVICE TO ALLAY FEARS OVER FUTURE

After 300,000 people turned out in St. Peter's Square to bid an emotional farewell to one of the most popular spiritual leaders in the world, a cardinal from America urged Catholics not to fear transition to a new pope.

"It's a challenge, because (people) can engage in anxiety, but Christianity offers a reason not to engage in anxiety," Cardinal Justin F. Rigali of Philadelphia said. "Jesus says, 'Let not your heart be troubled.' "

Pope John Paul II's epochal funeral, which included more than 200 international dignitaries and drew more than one million people to Rome, capped an epic papacy of 26 years, the third longest pontificate in history.

Banners throughout St. Peter's Square Friday urged "Santo Subito," a call in Italian for John Paul II to be canonized a saint immediately.

Rigali said the elaborate Mass "was everything the Catholic Church could offer for the pope. We all had an extraordinary experience this morning."

As they begin preparations to select a new pope, Rigali and other American cardinals plan now to shut themselves off from reporters, and they asked Catholics around the world to pray for them.

"Now it's a matter of intense prayer, hoping God will give us light and strength," said Rigali. "We find it personally necessary to step back. We have a great responsibility."

The 11 American cardinals with voting privileges have decided not to conduct further interviews until a new pope is elected, said Rigali.

The papal conclave, scheduled to begin April 18, is the next dramatic step in the transition process.

The pope was laid to rest with members of the "papal family" present, including Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, his longtime personal secretary, and the prefect of the Papal Household, as well as several cardinals.

The pope had asked to be buried in the ground. His casket was sealed within a zinc coffin, which then was encased in an outermost coffin of elm.

"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality -- our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the main celebrant of the Mass, said in his homily, which he read in Italian.

World leaders, including President Bush and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, sat to the right of the casket and altar during the solemn Mass. Archbishops and other high-ranking prelates were to the left. The cardinals were seated for most of the ceremony under the towering columns marking the entrance to the basilica.

A bell atop the basilica tolled shortly before 10 a.m. to announce the funeral, which began with a hymn, "Eternal Rest Grant Him, O Lord." Pallbearers slowly walked the closed casket to the front of a large altar and rested it gently upon an ornate carpet, where it sat with a book of the Gospels open so that the pages fluttered.

The cardinals, from among whom the next pope will be selected, followed in the procession, wearing flowing bright red vestments. Some lost their red zucchettos, or skull caps, in a fickle breeze that kicked up now and then during the Mass.

The wind swept in a blanket of clouds for some of the ceremony, but hazy sunshine peeked through as well.

Applause erupted several times during Ratzinger's homily, including when he greeted "the faithful who come here from every continent, especially the young, whom John Paul II liked to call the future and hope of the church."

Millions viewed pope

After more than a million people waited hours in line for a public viewing of the pope lying in state Monday through Thursday, many lined up again for the funeral, bringing blankets and camping out.

"This is a blessing just to be here in Rome. To be this close is a grace," said Brother John Donohue, a seminarian with the Legionnaires of Christ.

Donohue, who hails from Pittsburgh, ventured to the square at 3 a.m. and was rewarded with a front row spot in the nearest area not set aside for people with tickets or credentials.

A brief meeting with the pope in 1992 led Donohue to pursue the priesthood, he said.

Friday morning the streets outside the Vatican walls were littered with piles of newspapers, water bottles and other debris. Hundreds of thousands who couldn't get to the square or Via della Conciliazone watched the ceremony on large video screens outside the walls.

The visitors came from around the globe, including many from Poland, the pope's native land. Flags from dozens of countries flapped in the wind, as did a bright yellow sign that read Wadowice, the pontiff's hometown.

In his homily, Ratzinger said John Paul II abided by the words "Follow Me," uttered in the Gospels by a resurrected Jesus to his first disciple, Peter, the initial pope of the church.

"Working in a chemical plant, surrounded and threatened by Nazi terror, he heard the voice of the Lord: Follow me!" said Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals. "In this extraordinary setting he began to read books of philosophy and theology and then entered the clandestine seminary established by Cardinal Sapieha."

Toward the end of his talk, Ratzinger paused momentarily to compose himself as he recalled the pope's final Easter Sunday.

Easter suffering recalled

"None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing," said Ratzinger. "We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us."

For Holy Communion, hundreds of priests fanned out into the crowd, reaching over railings to offer the host of unleavened bread, believed by Catholics to be the body of Jesus.

Patriarchs, archbishops and metropolitans of the Eastern Rite churches prayed for the soul of John Paul II and blessed his body with incense.

The Mass, which lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes, ended with the cardinals walking two-by-two to the altar and back up the basilica stairs.

They were soon followed by the pallbearers and casket, as the bells of St. Peter's tolled again and humming applause echoed throughout the square.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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