Presidents, prime ministers and kings joined pilgrims and prelates in St. Peter's Square on Friday to bid an emotional farewell to Pope John Paul II at a funeral service that drew millions to Rome for the largest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times.
Applause rang out in the wind-whipped square as John Paul's simple wooden coffin adorned only with a cross and an "M" for Mary was brought out from the basilica and placed on the ground in front of the altar for the Mass. Bells tolled and the crowd applauded again when the coffin was presented to them one last time and carried back inside by white-gloved pallbeareres for burial in the grotto under the basilica.
The Vatican announced that the burial, attended by prelates and members of the papal household, took place at 2:20 p.m. (1220 GMT) near the tomb traditionally believed to be of the apostle Peter, the first pope.
The funeral service began with the Gregorian chant "Grant him Eternal rest O Lord." Cardinals wearing white miters processed onto the square, the wind rippling their red vestments and the pages of the book of the Gospel, which was placed on the cyprus coffin.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, a close confidant of John Paul and a possible successor, referred to him as our "late beloved pope" in a homily that traced his life from his days as a factory worker in Nazi-occupied Poland to the last days of his life as the head of the world's 1 billion Catholics.
Interrupted by applause at least 10 times, the usually unflappable German-born Ratzinger choked with emotion as he recalled one of John Paul's last public appearances - when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter Sunday.
"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," he said to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.
"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 Ratzinger in heavily accented Italian.
He said John Paul, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, was a "priest to the last" and said he had offered his life for God and his flock "especially amid the sufferings of his final months."
Ratzinger was interrupted again toward the end of the Mass by several minutes of cheers and shouts of "Giovanni Paolo Santo" or "Saint John Paul," from the crowd, right before the "Litany of Saints" chant, in which saints are named.
Groggy pilgrims who had camped out on the cobblestones had awakened in their sleeping bags to hordes of the faithful stepping over them as they tried to secure a good spot to view the Mass. The square and the boulevard leading to it were a sea of red and white flags waved by pilgrims from John Paul's beloved Poland, many in traditional dress shouting "Polska! Polska!"
"We just wanted to say goodbye to our father for the last time," said Joanna Zmijewsla, 24, who traveled for 30 hours with her brother Szymon from a town near Kielce, Poland, and arrived at St. Peter's at 1 a.m. Friday.
Once in the grottos, the coffin was definitively closed with red bands and both papal and Vatican seals. It was placed in a second casket of zinc, and then within a third of walnut. This outside casket bears the name of the pope, his cross and his papal coat of arms.
The service was not open to the public, but was witnessed by top Vatican prelates. The camerlengo, or chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, performed the rite, concluding with the words: "Lord, grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him."
Before the Mass began, American Archbishop James Harvey, head of papal protocol, greeted black-clad dignitaries from more than 100 countries and religious leaders as they emerged from St. Peter's onto the steps. Many of the officials shook Harvey's hand and offered condolences before mingling and taking their appointed seats.
Turbans, fezzes, yarmulkes and black lace mantillas, joined the zucchettos or skull caps of Catholic prelates in an extraordinary mix of religious and government leaders from around the world.
"I'm here because I'm a believer but also to live a moment in history," said Stephan Aubert, wearing a French flag draped over his shoulders.
Bells tolled as the the last of the leaders took their places on red-cushioned wooden seats. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the funeral, the U.S. delegation arrived, headed by President George W. Bush and including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, sat next to French President Jacques Chirac and his wife.
Rome itself was at a standstill. Friday morning, just after midnight, a ban on vehicle traffic took effect throughout the city. Air space was closed and anti-aircraft batteries outside the city were on alert.
Italian authorities took extraordinary precautions to protect the royalty and heads of state or government attending the funeral. Dignitaries from more than 100 countries, including the presidents of Syria and Iran, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders, also were attending.
Naval ships patrolled both the Mediterranean coast and the Tiber River near Vatican City, the tiny sovereign city-state encompassed by the Italian capital.
The pope's death on Saturday evinced a remarkable outpouring of affection around the world and brought an estimated 4 million people to Rome to see the funeral.
At least 300,000 people filled St. Peter's Square and Via della Conciliazione straight to the Tiber River, waving flags from the United States, Croatia, Lebanon and elsewhere, many of them adorned with black ribbons of mourning. Banners read "Santo Subito," or "Sainthood Immediately."
Several million more watched on giant video screens set up across Rome in piazzas and at the enormous Circus Maximus, where a group of youngsters wearing t-shirts that read "The boys of Pope John Paul The Great" sold a commemorative booklet about the pontiff.
"I had a special affection for this pope because he loved all people of all religions," said Alex Van Arkabie, 60, who was holding a flag from his native Sri Lanka as he recited the rosary in the Circus Maximus.
In the country of John Paul's birth, 800,000 people gathered in a vast field in Krakow to watch the funeral on a series of large television screens, and in Warsaw, sirens wailed for three minutes to announce the start of the funeral. In Hanoi, Vietnam, and in Yangon, Burma, the faithful gathered to watch the service on television or to pray for John Paul.
The funeral was preceded by an intimate ceremony attended only by high-ranking prelates, who placed a pouch of silver and bronze medals and a scrolled account of the pope's life in a metal cylinder in his coffin.
The scroll said his "love for the young" inspired him to begin World Youth Days. The account traces his life from his birth in Poland through his election as pope and mentions some highlights of his papacy, including his efforts to reach out to Jews and other non-Catholics and his travels with a "tireless missionary spirit."
John Paul's longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, placed a white silk veil over the pope's face before the coffin was closed.
Dziwisz was seen weeping on several occasions during the service.
After a series of hymns, readings and the homily, Ratzinger called all to prayer.
"Dear brothers and sisters let us entrust to the most gentle mercy of God, the soul of our Pope John Paul II. ... May the Blessed Virgin Mary ... intercede with God so that he might show the face of his blessed Son to our pope, and console the church with the light of the Resurrection."
The Mass ended with all standing and together singing: "May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem."
On the eve of the funeral, the Vatican released John Paul's last will and testament, written in Polish over 22 years beginning five months after his election in October 1978.
In it, John Paul said he wanted to be buried "in the bare earth" and have prayers and Masses celebrated after his death.
He instructed his private secretary to burn his personal notes. He also suggested he considered resigning in 2000, when his infirmities were already apparent. Revising his will just three days before a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, John Paul prayed that God would "help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service."
The former rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, was among the religious leaders attending the funeral. He was one of only two living people mentioned in John Paul's will. The other was Dziwisz.
The pope had lain in state at St. Peter's from Monday through Thursday. In four days, some estimates say nearly 2 million pilgrims passed by his body to say their farewells.
Rome groaned under the weight of visitors. Side streets were clogged in a permanent pedestrian rush hour, mostly by children with backpacks. Tent camps sprang up at the Circus Maximus and elsewhere around the city to take the spillover from hotels. Hawkers jacked up prices of everything from bottled water to papal trinkets.
VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer
Forest fires in Siberia have been raging for three months already. They have become a disaster not only of Russian, but of global scale. The fires have already scorched 12 million hectares of land