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Mass held at St. Peter's Basilica

Bells tolled and pilgrims wept as the world remembered John Paul II

Associated Press

Vatican City — 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."

The 84-year-old pontiff's body lay in state at the Apostolic Palace, dressed in crimson vestments, his head covered with a white bishop's miter. The Vatican released the Polish-born Pope's official cause of death, saying the man who reigned for longer than all but two of his predecessors died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse.

The written text of Cardinal Sodano's homily called the late Pope "John Paul the Great," a title usually designated for popes worthy of sainthood, such as Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. Cardinal Sodano did not use the title when he delivered the homily, and there was no explanation.

Vatican texts, however, are considered official texts even if they are not pronounced.

Applause rang out when Cardinal Sodano prayed for the Pope's soul at the start of the Mass. About 80,000 people attended Mass, with about 20,000 more spilling into the surrounding boulevards, police said.

"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.

Applause rang out again during his homily, when he said: "It's true. Our soul is shocked by a painful event: Our father and pastor, John Paul II, has left us. However ... he has always invited us to look to Christ, the only reason for our hope."

He said John Paul had died "serenely."

In John Paul's homeland, about 100,000 Poles mourned his death Sunday in the Warsaw square where he celebrated a landmark Mass that inspired opponents of the communist regime 26 years ago.

"From the symbolic place where John Paul II lit the flame of freedom, dignity and solidarity, Warsaw is praying for mercy for the Holy Father," Bishop Piotr Jarecki told the crowd gathered for the special service.

Thousands of people streamed toward St. Peter's Square for the midmorning Mass, joining the faithful who held an overnight vigil in the piazza after learning of the death of the pontiff.

"John Paul held his hand to us young people," said 21-year-old Alessio Bussolotti, who drove to Rome on Sunday morning with his fellow Boy Scouts from the Italian city of Ancona. "Now we have to give him ours."

After the Mass ended, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who became the Pope's public "voice" in his final weeks, read the traditional Sunday noontime prayer, which John Paul delivered throughout his pontificate. The crowd applauded when Archbishop Sandri announced that the late Pope had actually prepared the prayer himself before he died, saying he was reading it "with such honor, but also such nostalgia."

Later, the cardinals and other members of the Roman Curia, the Vatican diplomatic corps and Italian government went to the Apostolic Palace to pay their respects to John Paul, whose head rested on a golden pillow, his arms folded and a bishop's staff tucked under his left arm.

Two Swiss guards in red, blue and yellow striped uniforms stood at attention on either side of the body, which was placed in front of a fireplace in the palace's Clementine Hall adorned with the Vatican coat of arms, a crucifix standing to one side and an ornate candle burning on the other.

The guards also lined up to pay their respects, removing their plumed helmets before kneeling and praying before the Pope's body.

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

Before the Mass, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the late Pope's vicar for Rome, issued a formal announcement of John Paul's death to the people of Rome in keeping with Vatican tradition.

John Paul was 58 when the cardinals elected him the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

He survived a 1981 assassination attempt, but in his later years was the picture of frailty, weighed down by Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments. Although he continued his travels, he was too weak to continue his famous gesture of kissing the ground when he arrived at his destinations.

Hospitalized twice in the past two months after breathing crises, and fitted with a breathing tube and a feeding tube, John Paul became a picture of suffering as his death approached.

To reach the Mass in his honor, pilgrims jammed the piazza and the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading toward it, coming from every direction. Some walked their dogs, others lifted small children up on their shoulders to see better.

Still others carried rosaries, newspaper photos of the Pope, flowers or the flags of their country. Many were the red and white colors from John Paul's native Poland.

"It's a historic event," said Ercole Ferri, a 72-year-old Roman who proudly showed off a list of the six popes he has 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 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, a 24-year-old Italian student who spent the night camped out in sleeping bags with friends on the square.

"He was a wonderful guide. We have no guide now, there's no longer his voice, or his presence."

Before the Mass started, pilgrims watched four large screens placed about the square to allow the throngs who could not see the altar to follow the proceedings. Each time the camera narrowed in on someone holding up an image of the Pope, people burst into applause.

A group of 10 Polish youths brought a huge Polish flag decorated with photos of the pope and messages, including one that read, "We are with you. Thank you father."

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 10:30 a.m. Monday in its first gathering before a secret election to be held later this month to choose a new pope.

The cardinals were expected to set a date for his funeral, which the Vatican said was expected between Wednesday and Friday.

The Vatican has declined to say whether he left instructions for his funeral or burial. Most popes in recent centuries have asked to be buried in the crypts below St. Peter's Basilica, but some have suggested the first Polish-born Pope might have chosen to be laid to rest in his native country.

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