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In a procession both majestic and medieval, 12 white-gloved pallbearers carried the body of Pope John Paul II from the inner chambers of the Vatican across St. Peter's Square on Monday and laid him at the altar of the basilica where he will be buried Friday.

With slow, deliberate steps, cardinals in scarlet vestments and young priests in white tunics escorted the velvet bier as the pope moved closer to his final resting place, entering the basilica in a cloud of incense amid mournfully recited prayers.

The doors of St. Peter's Basilica then opened to the public, and tens of thousands of people from all over the world began filing past the body. The pontiff, who died Saturday night, ending history's third-longest papal reign, will lie in state for public viewing nearly around-the-clock until Friday's funeral.

Meanwhile, the College of Cardinals met for a second day of talks today to prepare for the conclave that will elect the pope's successor.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said after the meeting that the cardinals hadn't yet decided on a date for the conclave, which according to church law must occur 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope.

The cardinals have not yet read John Paul's spiritual testament, he said. They spent today continuing to work out details of Friday's funeral. John Paul will be laid to rest in the crypt under the basilica near the tomb that is traditionally believed to be that of the first pope, St. Peter.

Navarro-Valls said 91 of the 183 cardinals were in Rome as of today. Of the 183, only 117 of them -- those under the age of 80 -- can vote in a conclave. All, however, can participate in the meetings leading up to the conclave.

The Vatican said that when a new pope is elected, the ringing of bells will accompany the traditional signal of white smoke.

Archbishop Piero Marini, master of ceremonies for liturgical celebrations, said the bells were being added to avoid confusion over the color of the smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Black smoke signals no decision has been made; white smoke means a pope has been elected.

The doors of St. Peter's Basilica were opened to the general public Monday evening to view the pope. At 3 a.m. today (9 p.m. EDT Monday), an hour later than had been announced, the doors were closed for cleaning and the faithful outside started chanting "Open up, open up!"

A few gave up and left, but most camped out on the side of the road. Just before 5 a.m. (11 p.m. EDT Monday), about 20 minutes earlier than planned, the basilica's doors reopened and people rushed back into line.

With a panoply of solemn rituals unfolding, up to 2 million pilgrims and mourners are expected to flood Rome ahead of Friday's 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) service. Official delegations will be led by presidents and kings. President Bush, the first sitting American president to attend a pope's funeral, will be among an estimated 200 heads of state and other foreign officials.

Tens of thousands of people packed St. Peter's Square on Monday and watched as the pope's body was carried to the basilica.

Flanked by Swiss guards in red-plumed helmets, a somber parade of priests and seminarians, monks in brown cassocks, and cardinals in scarlet caps escorted the body from the 17th-century Clementine Hall, through the frescoed halls and marble staircases of the Apostolic Palace and out the Bronze Door into the sunlit piazza.

To the haunting intonations of Gregorian chants and the recitation of the Litany of Saints, the pallbearers ferried the pope's bier across the square to the front doors of St. Peter's Basilica. There, the cortege paused, and the pallbearers turned the platform for a brief moment, as if to allow the pope a final glance over the square and the faithful filling it.

The pope was swathed in a red-velvet chasuble, a vestment he traditionally wore during pre-Easter services commemorating the Passion of Christ. A rosary was threaded through his fingers, and a silver bishop's staff was tucked under his arm.

Inside the basilica, Christendom's largest church, he lay before Bernini's bronze and gilded baldacchino, a colossal, Baroque high altar erected nearly 400 years ago.

Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the chamberlain who is in charge of running church affairs during this interregnum, led the procession and the service. Both before leaving the Clementine Hall, and again when the pope came to rest in St. Peter's, Martinez blessed John Paul with holy water and holy oils from a golden chalice, first at his feet, then at either side. Finally, Martinez sent puffs of ceremonial incense wafting over the corpse.

"May perpetual light shine on him," Martinez, 78, said. "May he rest in peace." Concluding the liturgy, Martinez wiped tears from his face. Finally each of the cardinals and bishops approached the pope and kneeled or bowed.

The doors then opened to the public, and ordinary people -- Italians, pilgrims, tourists, the faithful, the curious -- poured into the cavernous church and filed, quickly, past the lifeless body of a man who had suffered so publicly but now lay still.

By midnight (6 p.m. EDT Monday), more than 100,000 people had paid brief homage, authorities said, and the line stretched more than a mile along the Via della Conciliazione. The pilgrims waited for hours.

"My faith is more strong now," said Tulio Jaranga, a 42-year-old Peruvian, in the doorway of the basilica. "He showed us through his suffering that no happiness is possible without pain."

Aiden McGuinness of Limerick, Ireland, slept in the square overnight to be sure of a spot in line.

"For all of how sad it is, I am so glad to be here," he said. "I wanted to be here out of respect -- that's why I flew here as soon as I heard. I asked my friends, 'Do you think I'm mad to come all this way?' And they said, 'No, you'll be glad all your life that you came.' And I will."

Behind the public rituals, the princes of the church, as the cardinals are known, have quietly put in motion the business of transition. The general congregation sessions that began Monday will continue regularly until the cardinals enter into the conclave to elect a new pope.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said the cardinals were handling the "nuts and bolts" of immediate church affairs, "the things that need to be done."

Navarro-Valls said John Paul left no instructions for his burial, squelching speculation that he intended to be laid to rest in his native Poland.

Without instructions, the Vatican reverts to tradition; hence, the decision to inter him under St. Peter's Basilica. Navarro-Valls said John Paul would most likely be buried in the tomb that once belonged to Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963. He was moved to the main section of the basilica after his beatification in 2000 so that pilgrims can view his body more easily.

Vatican officials say they expect the massive crowds at Friday's funeral will set a record for an event at the Holy See.

The expected dignitaries are as diverse as Bush and his wife, Laura, and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Bush, who met with John Paul three times, will travel to Italy on Wednesday, and will hold meetings with other world leaders on Thursday before Friday's funeral, he said. The White House said he will be accompanied by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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