Finally at rest after years of crippling disease, Pope John Paul II's body lay in state Sunday, his hands clutching a rosary, his pastoral staff under his arm. Millions prayed and wept at services across the globe, as the Vatican prepared for the ritual-filled funeral and conclave that will choose a successor.
Television images gave the public its first view of the pope since his death: lying in the Vatican's frescoed Apostolic Palace, dressed in crimson vestments and a white bishop's miter, his head resting on a stack of gold pillows. A Swiss Guard stood on either side as diplomats, politicians and clergy paid their respects at his feet.
An estimated 100,000 people turned out at St. Peter's Square for a morning Mass and thousands more tourists, Romans, young and old kept coming throughout the day, filling the broad boulevard leading to St. Peter's Basilica. They clutched rosaries and newspaper photos of the late pontiff as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder to pray for the soul of "our beloved John Paul."
"Even if we fear we've lost a point of reference, I feel like everybody in this square is united with him in a hug," said Luca Ghizzardi, a 38-year-old nurse with a sleeping bag and a handmade peace flag at his feet.
Early Sunday, a text message had circulated on cell phones in Rome, asking people to light candles in their windows. "May they light up the road to God for him, the way he did for us," the message said.
Pope John Paul II, the longest running pontiff in modern history, died quietly late Saturday night at the age of 84 in the Vatican as a sea of admirers gathered in St. Peter's Square.
News of the death, following days of increasingly grave suffering, was transmitted instantly around the world and to the huge crowd in St. Peter's Square, through the Vatican's advanced electronic communication system.
The announcement was made by Archbishop Leonardo Sanderi.
"The Holy Father John Paul II has returned to the house of our father," he told the crowd."We all feel like orphans this evening." Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the time of death was 9:37 p.m.
All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, were put in motion, he added.
Giant Vatican-run video screens transmitted news of the death and the deep silence of the crowd was broken by a sudden and lengthy wave of applause, a traditional Italian response to death.
Church bells across Rome began tolling, and tens of thousands of more people began making their way towards St. Peter's Square.
While many people wept and prayed, others said they were buoyed the tenacious spirt by the pontiff in his final days.
"This is an inspiration for my children. This is a man they should be proud of, " said Elisabetta Fegrato, who brought her four young children to the centre of the square, where a crowd that neared 100,000 gathered Saturday night.
The 84-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church developed a high fever resulting from infections that have not responded to treatment, a failing cardiac system, weak organs, low blood pressure and faint breath.
The Pope died after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations in as many months. Just a few hours earlier, Vatican officials insisted that he remained conscious and responsive, and even suggested that he tried to deliver a message to young followers.
Businesses across Italy shut their doors, and the Italian government declared three days of mourning.
The Pope's funeral will be held on Wednesday, according to Italian media reports.
The heads of states of most countries, including Canada's Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, are on their way to Rome.
Earlier, Saturday, the Vatican issued a tense, three-sentence statement.
"The clinical conditions of the Holy Father remain very serious," Vatican press officer Mr. Navarro-Valls wrote. "In late morning a high fever developed. When addressed by members of his household he responds correctly."
In the morning, Mr. Navarro-Valls had claimed that the Pope was attempting to speak, and that he seemed to be aware of the crowds of at least 70,000 people gathered beneath his window.
But he said the Holy Father had begun the day unconscious, and that his hold on life was extremely fragile.
"There has been an initial compromise in the state of consciousness, but we cannot speak of a coma," Mr. Navarro-Valls told reporters in the morning, noting that a "difficult compromising moment" had occurred around dawn.
He then offered a message to youth from the Pope, which he said had been assembled from words that Vatican staff believe the pontiff had been trying to utter.
"I have looked for you. Now you have come to me. And I thank you." That, Mr. Navarro-Valls said, was the sentence reconstructed from "interrupted words pronounced by the Holy Father" on Friday night.
Prime Minister Paul Martin expressed his deep sadness at the news of the death.
"On behalf of the government and the people of Canada, I wish to pay tribute to the remarkable life and work of His Holiness Pope John Paul II," said Mr. Martin in a press release.
Since his surprise election in 1978, John Paul travelled the world frequently, staunchly opposing communism in his native Poland and across the Soviet bloc, but also preaching against rampant consumerism, contraception and abortion.
John Paul was a robust 58-year-old when the cardinals stunned the world and elected the cardinal from Krakow, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
In his later years, however, John Paul was the picture of frailty, weighed down by ailments that included Parkinson's disease. Although he kept up his travels, he was too weak to kiss the ground any more.
A fierce enemy of communism, he set off the sparks that helped bring down communism in Poland, from where a virtual revolution spread across the Soviet bloc. No less an authority than former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said much of the credit went to John Paul.
At the same time, John Paul was no friend of Western lifestyles, warning against rampant consumerism and casual sex.