Pope John Paul II's Tomb Opened — and New Poll Shows How Beloved He Was

Beatification preparations under way as Americans indicate how much they admired the late Holy Father.

(photo: CNS photo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope John Paul II’s tomb was opened and his casket removed in preparation for veneration after his beatification May 1.

During a brief ceremony April 29, top Vatican officials and a handful of the Pope’s former aides sang a litany in the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope’s casket was placed temporarily before the tomb of St. Peter, in an area closed off to visitors.

Among those participating were Sister Tobiana Sobodka and six other Polish nuns who served the late Pope in the papal household.

The casket, which was covered with an embroidered gold cloth, was to be moved to a spot in front of the main altar on the basilica’s upper level on the morning of May 1, so people can pray before it after the beatification Mass. Then it will be moved to a new tomb site in the chapel of St. Sebastian, located on the main floor of the basilica.

The inscribed marble slab that covered Pope John Paul’s original tomb will be sent to Krakow, Poland, where it will be placed in a new church dedicated to Blessed John Paul, the Vatican said.

Vatican officials said the three-layer casket would remain unopened during the beatification and the veneration. The Pope’s body lies inside a coffin made of cypress wood, surrounded by another coffin of lead, which is covered by a third wooden coffin.

The relic for the beatification Mass, a vial of the late Pope’s blood, will be carried to the altar in a silver reliquary by Sister Tobiana and French Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, whose cure from Parkinson’s disease was accepted as the miracle that paved the way for Pope John Paul’s beatification.

At a press briefing in the Vatican Press Office April 29, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, announced a new beatification page at www.vatican.va that includes a multimedia tribute to Pope John Paul II, featuring more than 500 photographs and excerpts from papal texts in six languages.

Vatican officials also said they had created a team of “digital sentinels,” Catholics of every age who have volunteered to bring the witness and teaching of Pope John Paul to the Internet, especially through Facebook and Twitter.

Their efforts were to focus on the beatification events, but will continue afterward. The Vatican said about 1,000 journalists and opinion leaders were ready to follow their live Twitter feed, and 3,000 people on Facebook were involved in the “sentinel” groups.

The Vatican said the vigil on the eve of the beatification in Rome’s ancient Circus Maximus racetrack would feature the recital of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, an innovation of Pope John Paul II, in a video link-up with five Marian sanctuaries around the world.

The Diocese of Rome said eight major churches in the center of the city will be open all night for pilgrims who wish to pray. The Vatican planned to open St. Peter’s Square at 5:30am the morning of the beatification.

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans admire Pope John Paul II and believe he is worthy of beatification, according to a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll.

The poll, released a few days before the May 1 beatification of the late Pope, showed that 59% of those responding believe Pope John Paul was one of the best popes or the best pope in Church history. Among Catholics, the percentage rose to 82%.

Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, said the poll results illustrate Pope John Paul’s ability to break down barriers and reach audiences — including non-Catholics — in a variety of ways: through personal visits, defense of human rights, his teaching encyclicals and even his poetry.

“People got to know him. And I think in knowing him, they began to see a part of the Catholic Church they had not known before,” Anderson said in an interview in Rome April 28.

“There was an authenticity in the way he lived his Christian life. And I think when people saw that, saw that year after year after year, they came to admire him,” he said.

The poll of 1,274 people in the United States found that more than 40% of respondents said Pope John Paul made at least some difference in their life spiritually. Among Catholics, 73% said he had spiritual impact on their lives.

Fifty-five percent of those polled said they admired the Polish Pope a great deal or a good amount. Among Catholics, the percentage of admirers was 82%, and among those identifying themselves as practicing Catholics, it was 89%.

Nearly three out of four people said Pope John Paul was a good candidate for beatification. The number rose to 90% among Catholics polled.

About two-thirds of those polled said they remembered the late Pope’s trips to the United States. Almost half the respondents — and almost three-fourths of practicing Catholics — said they watched his funeral in 2005.

Anderson, who worked closely with Pope John Paul on various projects, said he thought the Polish Pope had changed the concept of sainthood for the modern Church.

By beatifying and canonizing so many people from different walks of life, Anderson said, the Pope made sainthood seem possible.

In his own life, said Anderson, the Pope made the Christian virtues tangible.

“You saw what really living the Christian life was about: forgiving the person who tried to murder you, asking for forgiveness and seeking reconciliation with people who had been hostile in the past, showing respect like he did for the religious leaders of the world in Assisi,” Anderson said. “So all of these different ways were, I think, shaping our view of the Christian life and the ‘heroic virtue’ of the saint, especially the saint in our midst.”

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