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Thousands view pope's coffin after beatification

Thanksgiving mass ends three days of Vatican events

02 May, 13:47
Thousands view pope's coffin after beatification (ANSA) - Vatican City, 2 May - Around 250,000 Catholic pilgrims queued overnight at St.Peter's Basilica to pay homage to the late Pope John Paul II and pray before a silver reliquary containing his blood.

The basilica remained open until 5.30 a.m. to allow the faithful to view the coffin of the pontiff on display at the main altar after he was beatified by his successor Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony that drew 1.5 million people to Rome.

The Vatican reopened the basilica to pilgrims after a thanksgiving mass in St Peter's Square led by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone Monday.

"Today we thank the Lord for giving us a shepherd like Pope John Paul II," Bertone said. "A shepherd who knew how to read the signs of God's presence in human history, a shepherd with a deeply rooted commitment to evangelise and to proclaim the word of God in every place, even shouting it from the rooftops." Around 60,000 people attended the mass with around two-thirds of them estimated to be Polish pilgrims led by the late pope's personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, now the archbishop of Krakow.

Thirty cardinals, 150 bishops and 800 priests took part in the mass, the final event in three days of celebrations to mark John Paul's final step to sainthood. "The longed-for day has come," Benedict told the faithful on Sunday. "It came quickly because this was pleasing to the Lord.

John Paul II is blessed".

Benedict said John Paul was a titan who had "opened up to Christ society, culture, political and economic systems". The pope also proclaimed John Paul's feast day will be October 22, the anniversary of the day in 1978 when his pontificate was inaugurated. Many pilgrims waved their national flags, with the red and white of John Paul's homeland Poland evident throughout the crowd.

Around 5,000 visitors had camped out overnight in order to get a good position and hotel rooms in the Italian capital were fully booked.

After Sunday's ceremony Benedict was the first to pray before John Paul's coffin which was transferred from the Vatican grottos beneath the basilica to the main Altar of Confession on Friday to give Catholic pilgrims an opportunity for prayer and veneration following the beatification.

The coffin is on display with a precious Medieval copy of the gospel laid open on top. On Monday evening when the basilica is closed, it will be moved to the Chapel of St Sebastian near Michelangelo's famous Pieta' sculpture.

The Chapel of St Sebastian was chosen because it is close to the entrance to the basilica and will be easily accessible for his admirers.

Benedict sanctioned the beatification in January after a Vatican commission officially attributed a miracle to John Paul - the apparently inexplicable recovery of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, from Parkinson's Disease through the intervention of the late pope.

The now blessed Polish pontiff also suffered from Parkinson's Disease before he died in April 2005.

Sister Simon-Pierre told thousands of pilgrims who gathered at the Circus Maximus in Rome for a prayer vigil on Saturday that same year that she had dreamed of the late pope shortly before she recovered.

The nun was given the honour of holding up a phial of the late pope's blood during Sunday's official ceremony.

John Paul will have to be credited with another miracle before he can be canonised. Benedict XVI put his predecessor's beatification cause on a fast track, waiving a rule requiring a five-year wait before the start of the process, after crowds called on him to be made a 'Santo Subito!' (Saint Now!) at his funeral.

The move has been criticised in particular by victims of clerical sexual abuse claiming that the late pope did not take enough action to protect them during his 27-year pontificate.