famous, the powerful and the just plain faithful crowded into St. Peter's Square and the narrow streets around Vatican City to say farewell to Pope John Paul II in a momentous funeral that mixed ancient liturgies with the spontaneous applause of mourners from around the world.
At least one million people watched yesterday as the simple cedar coffin marked with a cross and an M for Mary was carried out of the historic basilica by a dozen Vatican ushers for the open-air requiem mass on the steps.
"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," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the crowd, as he pointed to the third-floor window above the square, where the Pope made his home for the past 26½ years.
"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," said the 77-year-old German cardinal, a confidant of the Pope who has been mentioned as a possible successor.
Kings, queens, princes and no fewer than 70 presidents and prime ministers, including U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation, and Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia came together in an impressive gathering of world leaders.
The Canadian delegation included Prime Minister Paul Martin, his wife Sheila, Opposition Leader Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, representing the provinces. They sat in the cordoned area where the main mass was celebrated.
A group of other Canadian dignitaries -- which included Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, and 10 members of Parliament and cabinet ministers -- sat in an area just behind.
Also attending were representatives of a range of Christian denominations, as well as representatives of the Muslim and Jewish faiths.
Cardinal Ratzinger referred to the man born Karol Wojtyla in the small Polish town of Wadowice in 1920 as our "late beloved Pope." He died last Saturday at 84, after suffering the effects of Parkinson's disease and other ailments.
The audience frequently broke into applause during the homily and repeatedly chanted "Giovanni Paolo," John Paul's name in Italian. The mourners' continuing devotion to him was evident in banners that declared santo subito, reflecting the desire of many to see him canonized as soon as possible.
Facing the dark-suited politicians and heads of state were the church's 167 crimson-garbed cardinals, including the 117 below the age of 80 who will select the next pope at a conclave that begins on April 18.
The international flavour of the scene was established with many languages included in the service, as well as the fluttering of national flags in the square and surrounding streets. The red-and-white Polish flag dominated, but flags from countries as diverse as Mexico, Greece and Lebanon could be spotted as well.
Wearing the simple habit of the Order of Consecrated Virgins, Sister Anne Duell, of Lancashire in England, said she felt a calling to come to the funeral. "It's an occasion I wouldn't miss for everything," she said after standing just outside the square for 12 hours, waiting for the service to begin.
Five years ago, at World Youth Days in Rome, the 33-year-old nun said she heard John Paul call on young Catholics to follow the path of God. "His words about not being afraid inspired me," she said.
Only metres away was 21-year-old Mark Koziel of Mississauga, looking like a soccer fan at a World Cup match. Mr. Koziel, who flew into Rome on Thursday from Toronto, was waving a massive Polish flag with "Toronto" scrawled on the white half of the red-and-white banner. Around his head was a bandana emblazoned with Polska and on his neck was a garish red-and-white knitted scarf.
"He [the Pope] was everything," said Mr. Koziel, who was born in Poland and emigrated to Canada when he was 11. "He was like the father of the whole country. . . . He showed me how I should live my life and have faith in myself."
Mr. Harper told reporters after the funeral that John Paul is a historic figure, adding that while many Canadians might remember the Pope as old, he recalls him as strong and athletic.
Mr. Charest said the funeral was hardly a gloomy affair. "It was a very, very beautiful ceremony. Not a sad ceremony, I think, but a ceremony that was full of hope."
Mr. Martin did not comment on the funeral.
With only 300,000 of the massive crowd able to make it into St. Peter's, most of the mourners were jammed into the street and alleys surrounding the Vatican.
After the mass, the coffin was carried by the same 12 ushers back into the basilica where it was placed inside two other coffins, one of lead and the other of oak, and buried under the floor of the grotto, not far from the tomb traditionally believed to be that of the apostle Peter, the first pope.