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'Tremendous testimony'

| Wednesday, April 6, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims continued pouring onto streets here Tuesday, lining up for up to eight hours to see Pope John Paul II lying in state.

In the midst of them stood Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, reveling in the experience.

"I have never seen anything like this," he declared, pointing to hundreds of people quietly inching past his hotel near St. Peter's Square.

"This is history being written, and I think that provides people with a feeling they are also part of something that is very important," Brandt said. "This is a tremendous testimony to the Holy Father."

Vatican and Italian officials said unprecedented numbers of pilgrims -- as many as 18,000 people per hour -- were filing past the crimson-clad body during nearly round-the-clock viewing yesterday. Many of those entering waited in a miles-long line for more than eight hours.

Even though the pope's body will be on display until Thursday, it has not been embalmed, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters. But he added, without elaborating, that it had been "prepared" for viewing.

Brandt said the public outpouring proves how much John Paul II raised Catholics' expectations for the papacy over a quarter-century.

"I really think that his successor will have quite a task, quite a responsibility. ... This pope has raised the bar," the bishop said.

Brandt predicts the next pope "won't be elected on the third ballot" when cardinals seclude themselves in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel next week for the papal conclave.

"It is going to take a little while. Unusual surprises come out of the conclave," he said. "I would say they themselves don't know who is going to be elected either."

The cardinals yesterday gave their seal of approval to elaborate ritual elements for the papal funeral Friday, which is expected to be the largest public event ever held in the city-state.

The cardinals, however, failed to set a date for the start of their conclave -- the sequestered gathering at which the next pope will be chosen by secret ballot cast in the frescoed Sistine Chapel.

By Roman Catholic Church practice, the gathering -- whose name comes from the Latin phrase for "with a key" -- must commence between 15 and 20 days after a pope's death.

A planned break with tradition was disclosed Tuesday -- when a new pope is chosen, it will be signaled not only with the customary puff of white smoke emanating from the chapel, but also by the pealing of the huge, deep-toned bell of St. Peter's. Black smoke signifies an inconclusive ballot.

The Vatican apparently wishes to avoid confusion similar to that which arose at the 1978 conclave, when a problem with the additive used in the burning of ballots turned the smoke gray instead of white -- triggering general pandemonium and a cascade of frantic calls to the Vatican press office.

Brandt arrived yesterday -- part of a pilgrimage of 42 Westmoreland County residents -- and carried his suitcase for blocks through the masses to reach his hotel.

As many as 2 million people are expected to descend on Rome this week to pay their respects.

"The crowd is so thick -- it goes from building to building, right over the sidewalks, and you can't move ... the crowd is so tight and dense, it takes you so long just to go a city block," Brandt said.

The bishop said he found a "veritable river of youth" waiting in the throngs that curl, block after block, on streets stretching from St. Peter's Square.

"I don't know of any king or queen, or president or rock star that receives this kind of homage and tribute at any time in their lives," said Brandt. "What a testimony, this outpouring of love, of prayer and concern and tribute to John Paul II."

He said the late pope "galvanized" younger people looking for "God, for faith, for something to believe in, for values."

Brandt said he hopes to attend the Friday funeral Mass, then return to Greensburg by Sunday to lead an ecumenical memorial service and Mass at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.

Hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries, including kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, are expected to attend the funeral Mass. The White House said yesterday that President Bush and his wife, Laura, will be accompanied by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, together with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a pope's funeral. Precedent will also be set by the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams -- marking the first time since the schism of four centuries ago that a serving leader of the Church of England will attend the burial of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

In keeping with practice of centuries' standing, John Paul's body will be readied for burial by placing it in a triple casket -- one fitted inside the next -- said Navarro-Valls. The innermost is of cypress, the second of zinc and the outer one of fir.

"One of the focal points of his pontificate was his outreach" to other Christian faiths and to non-Christians, including Jews and Muslims, Brandt said.

The bishop said the pope also paid the Roman Catholic Church in America "a great compliment" by visiting the United States seven times.

"I think that he, early on, spoke out about values which are integral to American life -- for instance, the value of life, all the life issues, from womb to tomb," Brandt explained.

"I think the Holy Father wanted to address the life issue in the United States and the root of secularism, which is an attempt to bleach God out of the truth that God represents in our society."

Additional Information:

Remembering John Paul II - Photo gallery

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The Associated Press

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