Archives > John Paul's Death, Prospects for His Funeral,
President Bush's Presence, and the Looming Conclave
John Paul's Death, Prospects for His Funeral,
President Bush's Presence, and the Looming Conclave
Rome, Monday, April 4, 2005
- by Dr. Robert Moynihan, Editor, Inside the Vatican
VATICAN CITY -- "All flesh is grass,"
the Bible says, and Karol Wojtyla's flesh grew dry and withered
in the last years of his life, until, despite his great strength
of spirit, in front of the whole world, the flame of his life
flickered out at 9:37 in the evening Rome time, just over
one day ago now.
In thunderous solemnity, the bells of St. Peter's tolled
for many minutes. A crowd packing St. Peter's Square, paradoxically,
briefly clapped, as if in recognition that this death was,
in a real sense, a victory. Then the vast throng, over 100,000
people, fell utterly silent, in homage to the departure of
the Slavic Pope who had decided to die, not in the hospital,
but in his
home, surrounded by his friends.
So passed John Paul II, of whom it may truly be said that
he "bestrode his age like a colossus." He died as
he had lived, a leading actor on the stage of this world,
with television cameras chronicling every minute of a decline
which, to borrow the words of the American poet Wallace Stevens,
though they are not entirely appropriate for a man who believed
he was moving toward the ultimate light, was a two-month descent
"downward to darkness, on extended wings." His last
moments were spent in prayer (see the official Vatican statement
below), and his last word is said to have been "Amen."
He was 84, dying less than two months shy of his 85th birthday,
which would have fallen on May 16.
His death, coming on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, which
he himself promulgated on April 30, 2000, in honor of a Polish
nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska, who saw visions of Jesus and
whom the Pope himself revered and canonized, seemed to many
faithful more than just coincidence. It was as if God had
called John Paul to him on the feast day most close to the
heart of the Polish Pope.
And his death, soon after that of Sister Lucy dos Santos,
the Portuguese nun who as a young shepherd girl saw visions
of Mary at Fatima in 1917, and who died on February 13 at
the age of 97, and just two days after the death of Terri
Schiavo, 41, whose own 13-day "descent to darkness"
due to a court-ordered deprivation of food and water riveted
the attention of America in the last half of March, made a
"trinity" of deaths in early 2005 of great significance
to Catholics, to Christians, and to all people of good will.
Lucy, Terri, and Karol: three deaths which seemed to bear
witness to our world.
It is not yet known on which day John Paul II will be buried.
It evidently could be as early as Thursday, April 7, or as
late as Saturday, April 9, but a spokesman for the Vatican
today strongly suggested -- though pointedly did not officially
confirm -- that the funeral would be Friday, April 8. The
precise date is expected to be announced later today by the
Vatican. If the funeral is held on April 8, it will fall on
the same day as the announced wedding of the heir to England's
throne, Prince Charles, to Camilla Parker-Bowles.
This may create serious conflicts for many news media in
their coverage, as they would be required to "flip"
from Italy to England, from a papal funeral to a royal marriage.
It might also create conflicts for some public figures invited
to both events. In that regard, "Inside the Vatican"
has been advised by a generally reliable source close to the
US administration that President George W. Bush intends to
come to Rome to be present
the Pope's funeral, possibly with his entire family. The only
reason this plan would change might be security concerns,
the source said. "I am sure the president will attend
the Pope's funeral," the source said. The official announcement
of Bush's plans has not yet been made public. It is thought
that some other heads of state are waiting for the announcement
decision before announcing their own plans.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II sent a letter of condolences
to the Vatican on learning of the Pope's death. The Pope had
repeatedly expressed his desire to travel to Russia and to
preach the Gospel in that formerly atheist communist country,
where belief in God was brutally suppressed for 70 years,
causing the imprisonment and death of millions.
But the Russian Orthodox Church, recalling centuries of conflict
between Orthodoxy and Catholicism since the Great Schism of
1054, refused to invite the Pope to visit Russia. Thus, one
of the Pope's deepest desires remained unsatisfied at his
death. Russian Orthodox leaders had suggested in the past
that, after John Paul passed from the scene, there might be
an opportunity for improved "Rome- Moscow" relations.
Despite this suggestion, it is not yet clear whether any representative
of the Patriarchate will come to Rome to attend the Pope's
There are a number of questions puzzling journalists here.
(1) Where will John Paul II be buried? In St. Peter's Basilica,
or in his native Poland?
The general consensus in the press office today was that
John Paul will "certainly" be buried in St. Peter's
However, he left a "testament" which is still unopened
(it may be opened today). In that testament, he may express
a wish to be buried in Poland.
My friend and photographer, Grzegroz Galazka, a Pole who
has photographed the Pope for 20 years, suggested to me this
evening that the Pope might even have wished to follow the
example set by the great Polish General Pilsudski, whose body
was buried in the Wawel Cathedral of Cracow, but whose heart
was buried in Vilnius, where he was born, in the same tomb
as the body of his mother. In this perspective, it may be
that John Paul could have asked that his body be buried in
St. Peter's, but his heart be buried in Wawel Cathedral in
Poland, alongside the other great heroes of Polish history.
Journalists are also asking what the cardinals, now gathering
in Rome, will be using as criteria in their thinking about
the man they will choose to succeed John Paul II.
(2) What are the cardinals meditating on with regard to the
upcoming election of a successor to Pope John Paul?
By good fortune, I was able to speak today with two cardinals,
Lubomyr Husar and Achille Silvestrini. I spoke with Husar,
head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which celebrates the
liturgy according to the Byzantine rite, but which is in union
with Rome, at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, after we both had
flown to Rome on the same flight from Philadelphia. (We chatted
for 30 minutes as we waited for his suitcase to come through
on the conveyor belt.)
Husar said the cardinals -- in his view -- are looking "for
a man, not a program." He said the man they are looking
for with be able to balance the claims of conflicting groups
so that Church teaching does not get "out of balance."
He used the words "synodality," "collegiality"
and "communion" in his discussion of the need to
find a way for the Petrine office to function which does not
compromise the prerogatives of "Peter" but yet allows
legitimate space for other bishops beside the Bishop of Rome,
as themselves successors of the apostles, to exercise an authoritative
doctrinal and jurisdictional role in the Church. He said no
one now has the answer to that question.
I spoke to Silvestrini in the Vatican Press Office. Silvestrini,
now past 80, will not vote in the conclave. He was once the
Vatican's "foreign minister" and so one of the most
influential and high-ranking of all curial officials. And
he was quite direct: "The Church needs to find a way
of governing which is more collegial. This is the key point."
I deduce from these two conversations that, among the very
many issues of concern to Church leaders, ranging from issues
of sexual morality to Third World debt, one issue that is
on the "front burner" right now is summed up in
this word "communio" or "communion." That
is, how can the Church remain unified, while allowing legitimate
variation and difference. Finding the balance point is an
extremely delicate task, for too much allowance for "difference"
could fracture "communion" altogether, while too
much "uniformity" could be seen as an oppressive
and stultifying "centralism." This is by no means
the only issue on the cardinals' minds, but it is one issue,
and a key one.
It is especially key because its solution could open the
way for something nearly everyone in the Church desires, but
few believe is possible: an end to the schism of 1054, the
reunion of the Orthodox Churches with Rome.
It was John Paul's great hope that he would move much closer
to this union than he did; it will now be his successor's
task to complete.
This is the official Vatican statement on the pope's death:
The Holy Father died at 9.37 this evening in his private
At 8 p.m. the celebration of Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday
began in the Holy Father's room, presided by Archbishop Stanislaw
Dziwisz with the participation of Cardinal Marian Jaworski,
of Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko and of Msgr. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki.
During the course of the Mass, the Viaticum was administered
to the Holy Father and, once again, the Sacrament of Anointing
of the Sick.
The Holy Father's final hours were marked by the uninterrupted
prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death,
and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands
of faithful who, for many hours, had been gathered in St.
Present at the moment of the death of John Paul II were:
his two personal secretaries Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz
and Msgr. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Cardinal Marian Jaworski,
Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, Fr. Tadeusz Styczen, the three
nuns, Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who assist
in the Holy Father's apartment, guided by the Superior Sr.
Tobiana Sobodka, and the Pope's personal physician Dr. Renato
Buzzonetti, with the two
doctors on call, Dr. Alessandro Barelli and Dr. Ciro D'Allo,
and the two nurses on call.
Immediately afterwards Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo
Sodano arrived, as did the camerlengo of Holy Roman Church,
Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri,
substitute of the Secretariat of State, and Archbishop Paolo
Sardi, vice-camerlengo of Holy Roman Church.
Thereafter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College
of Cardinals, and Cardinal Jozef Tomko also arrived.
Tomorrow, Divine Mercy Sunday, at 10.30 a.m., a Mass for
the repose of the soul of the Holy Father will be celebrated
in St. Peter's Square, presided over by Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
At 12 noon, the Marian prayer of Easter time, the Regina
Coeli, will be recited.
The body of the late pontiff is expected to be brought to
the Vatican Basilica no earlier than Monday afternoon.
The first General Congregation of Cardinals will be held
at 10 a.m. on Monday April 4 in the Bologna Hall of the Apostolic
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