Bidding Farewell to John Paul II
On Friday, April 8, the barriers at St. Peter’s Square were open by 6 a.m. for people to get in to attend the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II.
The community of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome had arisen at 3 a.m. to start walking towards the square from the nearby Gianicolo Hill.
Seven hours later, we were allowed to get inside the square, behind the hundreds of priests who would distribute Communion at the Mass.
The funeral was a miraculous expression of faith. It was also a diplomatic and ecumenical miracle. Two hundred heads of states, presidents of international organizations and religious leaders flanked the Pope’s casket throughout the ceremony.
The presidents of Israel and Syria — two nations formally at war — shook hands as a sign of peace. No other event had accomplished the feat of temporarily joining in one spirit the world’s nations and religions.
At the end of the funeral, the Pope’s body began its final journey into the basilica, through the “door of death” on the left side of the main altar, while the crowd applauded unceasingly.
When the funeral Mass ended, bells tolled and 12 pallbearers presented the coffin to all of us one last time. The coffin’s red cross with an “M” for the Blessed Virgin Mary summed up John Paul’s lasting message.
When the casket disappeared from public view, it was taken to the downstairs grotto. It was sealed and wrapped with three silk ribbons before being placed in a zinc coffin, which was hermetically sealed. The zinc coffin was then placed in an oak coffin and interred under a marble slab, inscribed with John Paul II in Latin.
Bearing Eternal Fruit
The tomb is in the spot left vacant by John XXIII, whose body was transferred to a Vatican chapel in 2000, when he was beatified. His grave is a few yards from the tomb of the Apostle Peter, next to Paul VI, and in front of John Paul I.
Thus, the Holy Father’s tomb symbolically expressed the guideline of his papacy. John Paul II had chosen his name to mean his pontificate would continue the work started by Peter and furthered by John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I.
“Accepting this death already now,” the Polish Pope wrote in his testament, “I hope that Christ will give me the grace for the last passage, that is [my] Pasch. I hope that he will render it useful also for this most important cause which I seek to serve: the salvation of men, the safeguarding of the human family, and in it of all the nations and peoples (among them I also turn in a particular way to my earthly homeland), useful for the persons he has entrusted to me in a particular way, for the issues of the Church, for the glory of God himself.”
John Paul’s prayer was abundantly answered by Providence. His death was useful to most of the world, which watched his departure with gratitude, admiration, love and spiritual renewal.
The Pope’s death and funeral was his last and most heard homily — teaching us how to live and die. How many souls were touched by the Holy Spirit these days!
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar
teaches philosophy at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. [email protected]
- April 24-30, 2005