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...a sweatshop of moxie

Friday, April 08, 2005

Requiem For A Pope

Welcome to Live Blogging of the funeral of His Holiness, the late John Paul II, of happy memory. I have no idea how I will bear up at this time of the night, nearly 4 A.M. EDT for me, after a rigourous week at University, which has made me regrettably tardy in my postings this week, but I am willing to give it my best shot.

If 5 million people could wait for 12 hours or more in the queue to enter the Vatican, I can surely do as much in the comfort of my own home, to honour the passing of an inestimably cherished man.

4:01- I've switched viewing emphasis from CNN to Fox News. After almost a week of watching CNN'S coverage of the Pope's life, I'm sick to death of their chippy tone, and sniping asides, especially from Christiane Amanpour. I notice with regret that CNN chose to showcase an hour less coverage than Fox News as well. As much as I would not like to mention this irritability on my part at this moment, given the example of unity the Pope had for all in his life, this has rankled me the whole week, and finally I am letting it out.

4:02- The man we saw greeting dignitaries was the Milwaukee-born Prefect of the Papal Household (aka the Papal Majordomo), James Harvey. Some of the dignitaries on view, it must be said, schmoozing with one another were the King and Queen of Spain, who was greeting the Queen of Jordan at one point. The King of Spain was actually born in Rome in 1938, when his family were in exile. Prince Charles, the US delegation of 3 current and former Presidents, Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair were also seen, as was Iran's President Khatami. The latter was seen kissing a sheik I could not identify, "Arab-style" (the traditional three kisses).

4:10- The plain cypress coffin of the Pope is being led in to the Square by pallbearers. An unimaginably moving sight, because of its touching simplicity. A Pope: now shed of his grandeur, lying still in a simple coffin.

4:20- Alas the Blogger.com servers are not up to the task of Live Blogging. I can only presume every one else has gotten the same "bright" idea, because it is impossible to update or post at this time. I'll therefore confine my comments to every half hour, and later perhaps correct or add to it.

4:25- The Service is well underway, with all due reverence. The Catholic Latin Service, to those unaccustomed to it, can be mesmeric with its soft rhythmic hymns. I love it.

4:26- Having chosen Fox News, I must say that their translation of the Latin to the English is very jarring. I wish they'd just let the viewer take in the ceremony in peace.

4:31- The Second Reading (Seconda Lettura) is in English! I wonder how many languages we will hear all told, today.

4:33- Going back to the Majordomo, James Harvey. I read that he is in charge -- not the Camerlengo as I had presumed. Indeed, he instructs the Camerlengo as to when and how things are done.

4:35- More English. The Lingua Franca of the modern Catholic Church.

4:36- Wow, a brief crowd shot panned to a lady who looks like the double of a younger Nancy Reagan.

4:37- And here one must say a word about President Carter not being at the Funeral. The Vatican allowed 5 spots for the US delegation (to my mind, a very parsimonious allocation for what one of the largest Catholic populations in the world, 68 million). The sitting US President and wife, obviously. Then the father of the President, himself an ex-Commander-in-Chief and his immediate successor, obviously. The Fifth member was Condoleeza Rice, the Sec'y of State. This is completely correct, and yet, had I been Condoleeza Rice, I would have deferred my position to President Carter, the first US President to meet the late Pope. Ah well. Protocol will out.

4:39- The Homily pronounced in Italian by Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany, being translated into English by both CNN and Fox News. They contain the last words of the Pope to us, his flock. A smattering of applause as the words are received. Cardinal Ratzinger is sending a greeting to all gatherers, of all faiths, especially to young people. Continued and now heightened applause, a spontaneous affectionate response to the unifying spirit of the Pope.

4:43- Still in the Homily. A quick review of the Pope's pre-religious career, including that he worked in a factory (and often had to cover himself in Vaseline, to prevent frost-bite and burns, I had heard).

4:45- "You have chosen me, but I have chosen you too...take my love, because first of all, I love you." Cardinal Ratzinger: In this text, you can see illustrated the spirit of the Holy Father. (Crowd applause).

4:47- The Pope's last book,
Rise Let us Be on Our Way, is redolent of this message.

4:48- Cardinal Ratzinger is said to be too old and too doctrinally conservative but I must say, I'm impressed by his delivery in Italian. It is perfectly fluent and touching. His eulogy-homily has an almost conversational tone.

4:50- "He who devotes his whole life, never loses his life." The Pope's message to us is, as ever, perfect.

4:52- "Verily I am realising that God has no preferences amongst people. He who accepts Him, is accepted by Him".

4:54- FOLLOW ME, the ultimate message of the late Pope, says Cardinal Ratzinger.

4:55- When younger and robust, the Holy Father went to the ends of the earth. But as he aged, he understood the suffering of Christ by understanding the limitations we humans have. Suffering gives new meaning, dimension and order to life -- it transcends it by love. This is the interpretation of the mystery of the Easter message of Christ, according to the late Pope.


4:58- Having lost his own mother at such a tender age (9), he devoted his life to the Holy Virgin. The Pope was indeed one of the most devout adherents of Mariolatry of all time. He was especially devoted to Our Lady of Fatima.

5:00- A brief shot of that simple pine coffin again.

5:01- The crowd bursts into amazing applause. It is so heartfelt and loving. It continues still, increasing in tempo. Christiane Amanpour is "amazed"...after all this we have witnessed for 5 days, how can anyone be so amazed, I ask you? I have a response, but now is not the time to quibble.

5:06- Back to the Mass for the rest of the Pope's soul. Now "Universal Prayer" being said in French. Now in Swahili. Now in Tagalog. Now in Polish. In German. In Portuguese-Portuguese. I'm not sure if the CNN interpreter speaks all these languages, but he never missed a beat.

5:10- The Offertory. Gifts offered by young couples in their lands' native dress.

5:11- Heh. Someone passed Christiane Amanpour a cheatsheet of what languages were spoken. She misspoke by mentioning Brazil, when the Portuguese was from Portugal. CNN making sure that no one is insulted by the Catholicism and saying how "universal" the ceremony is. Argh! Now Amanpour mentioned Ratzinger's homily being doctrinally strict about faith. What? Come on. It was so touching and personal. What a dip. And why is she the only presenter in 3 cable news channels not wearing black or a dark suit -- instead favouring beige...someone didn't get the memo.

5:19- The most important part of any Mass -- the Transsubstatiation of the Body of Christ. The belief in which separates us from other Christians.

5:25- The Eucharistic Prayer being RACED through by a white-haired priest. A crowd shot showing that the separation between the masses and the dignitaries looks closer than I thought possible.

5:27- Fox News a full 5 seconds ahead of CNN. Heh. The Fox News translator sounds Lebanese. The CNN version is being translated by that effusive British presenter, Richard Quest.

5:35- The Sign of Peace. Dear Lord, is Chirac reaching out to Bush? Miracolo...

5:36- A beautiful moment -- when Jewish, Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), Muslim leaders on the podium kissed each others' cheeks in the timeless gesture of peaceful hope. The crowd doing the same.

5:37- "Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the Word, and I shall be healed". My favourite line in every Mass. It always affects me deeply and my head never fails to be bowed when I say it.

5:40- The faithful receiving Holy Communion. Silence on CNN. Fox News' anchor, Shepherd Smith, speaking to a guest. Now CNN starts its commentary. Hmm, Fox News has a guest saying that the Pope became more spiritual at the end (if that is possible), and that he declared 2005 this is the Year of the Eucharist, re-emphasising the mysteries of the Catholic message.

5:41- Smith said that the Pope died on Second Mercy Sunday after Easter, but surely the Pope died on Saturday...I have heard that said on CNN too, so not sure what they are referring to. Both are wrong. (Okay, he's corrected himself now, but still)

5:44- Lech Walesa! I was wondering when we would see him. Over 2 million Poles are said to have converged in Rome, and the sea of red of the Cardinals mesh beautifully with the overwhelming red of the crowds. There's Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's best earthly friend.

5:49- An invited priest has echoed what I think -- that the new Pope should not really try to follow the late Pope's "style"; it is too difficult to duplicate, because he was the PERFECT Pope for the perfect time. Instead, he should find his own way, of course following the message of peace and love, but to copy too much would look hollow.

5:51- John XXIII has been beatified, of course, by this last Pope, and his casket was removed to another part of the Vatican. Pope John Paul II's body will now repose in John XXIII's old crypt. Fitting.

5:53- (Various rubbernecking camera shots) President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in the world leader podium. Gerhard Schröder behind some Saudi princes, looking a bit lost as Communion continues. The King and Queen of Spain, the latter wearing her traditionally imposing mantilla, looking very solemn. The King looks a bit out of place, wearing a grey-blue suit, hmm. Wow, even President Bashir Assad of Syria made it. President Lula of Brazil laughing with his wife about something or other...the Cardinals approach the coffin.

5:58- Last prayer and heartfelt loving applause breaks out again, spontaneously. It's sustained as the camera pans to the crowds, waving flags in appreciation of the late Pontiff's life.

5:59- The coffin lies in a magnificent Aubusson rug, which must be centuries old.

6:00- You know, I can't help but to think how this applause must resonate with the 117 Cardinals present for this Mass. One of these men will be the next Pope. I realise many Popes before Pope John Paul II must've thought this about their predecessors, but the future leader of the Catholic Church has ENORMOUS, MONUMENTAL, UNFORGETTABLE shoes to fill. One can't help but wonder if this moment of sustained applause will occur for them when they pass. Such a moment which I will never forget as long as I live.

6:01- "Giovanni Paulo, il Papa! Giovanni Paulo!", a culmination of cheering for the Pope as he lies already in his earthly tomb. But he is also, I am SURE, looking down appreciating this scene from heaven.

6:05- Now the mesmeric Litany of the invocation of 73 specific Saints in the Church Canon - "Sancte Mattia, ora pro eo, Sancte Barnaba, Sancta Maria Magdalena...". My second favourite part of the Mass. Deliciously, since there is a slight delay from CNN and Fox, and since I have both going on in front and behind me, I am getting this with a beautiful stereophonic rhythm.

6:10- CNN showing LIVE coverage as being reported by several channels around the world, including Al-Jezeera...

6:11- It is interesting, on a human level, to see how and when it "hits" you -- a crowd mourner was shown with a ruddy face, tears streaming down her face. Sometimes the emotion overwhelms you, despite having been saturated with the knowledge of the Pope's death almost a week now. I myself shed tears as I heard the Litany invoked. What can I say. It's personal to each individual I suppose.

6:15- During the Prayers of Eastern Churches - "The Church had to breathe with two lungs, East and West". A great phrase used by Shepherd Smith perhaps echoing what the Pope had said in life, not sure. There is the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan, nearby a priest of the Coptic Church of Ethiopia. "Kyrie Elieson". That is Greek, but we Christians of any strain all understand its meaning.

6:21- The crowd as still and quiet during this as if they were in Church, rather than a melée in the streets of Rome. Really incredible when you think of it. A crowd shot showing the many flags present -- Czech, Brazilian, Spanish, and a woman holding up a memento of the Virgin of Fatima. How he would've liked that.

6:24- The cadences of the Greek chanting has its own specialness. It is not the same feel as our Latin one, obviously, but it reaches deep into your soul nonetheless. I quite like it. It's ended -- more applause. Now silence. The end of the Mass is upon us.

6:26- The Commendation, the final homily, coming up. Ratzinger approaches the coffin and blesses it with Holy Water. Now bows, and energetically places the incensor over the coffin, purifying it. Not sure what that book is on top of the coffin, though perhaps it's a copy of the Service. Seems a bit incongruous though.

6:29- Cardinal Ratzinger spoke perfect accentless Italian, and curiously his Latin is German-accented. Maybe Divis can explain...

6:32- Eternal applause for an eternal messenger of Christ.

6:33- The casket is allowed to lie alone, separate, for us to view one last time. Then he will be taken inside for his burial, at last. There are three coffins ultimately, a metal one, and then a last one, the heaviest of all. It was the Pope's specific wish not to be raised above ground, but rather buried in earth.

6:34- Schnazzy Vatican graphics by CNN, showing where the Pope will lie.

6:35- A shot of the Cardinals walking in a crocodile past the coffin. I had heard Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil is ill, and cannot attend, and I thought, "Oh no! One of the most Papabili of the Papabili, not there".

6:36- I may slap Christiane Amanpour one day. She had to break this moment by mentioning, in an excited voice, "There is the Cardinal of Cuba!", and now she is explaining how the Pope "attacked" the problem of Communism and Catholicism. ARGHHHHH. Not now, for pity's sake.

6:37- The applause is now overwhelming. The coffin again on the shoulders of his pallbearers, being led inside. People red-faced with tears. Very impressive moment. "SANTO SANTO, GIOVANNI PAULO, SANTO SUBITO" I think I hear. Grown men crying their hearts out...

6:39- Now I follow their lead. Piangio. My last sight of the coffin too, after all...it turns to face the crowd one last time...the bells start to toll, the coffin is inclined slightly for all to say goodbye, tears stream down my face as I type, one of the pallbearers holds his cheek quite close to the coffin, in a loving gesture -- bells, tears, and endless applause...

6:42- A crescendo of emotion. It is unbelievably moving. I wish those of you who will see it on delay could experience some of the emotion one is live. I have seen buried many beloved people in my life (I was in London for the service of Princess Diana), but nothing short of my own grandparents, and relatives comes remotely close.

6:43- I understand that it's not sophisticated, but not one dignitary had tears in their eyes, and yet, they are surrounded by people in the crowd who are crying their hearts out.

6:44- "It is unbelievably humbling", says Amanpour. Yes, it is. Heh, her co-presenter shuts her up, saying, let's listen to the bells as they continue to chime. I follow their lead.

6:48- The President and First Lady of the United States being led inside. Forgive me if I say this, but I never thought I'd live a day when I saw President Bush 43rd in Europe, and not one peep of protest, not one banner of hatred, not one dissenting voice in the crowd is heard. To me, this is a miracle in and of itself, since it's not just a funeral, but its an ideal which is being buried. The ideal of harmony.

6:51- Now the world leaders are entering inside, some actually smiling and laughing. Oh dear. Schröder is slapping a colleague on the shoulder, now Walesa and the Prince of Wales share a few yucks...maybe it's me, but I wouldn't take this opportunity to network. There's the Queen of Sweden (she half-Brazilian), followed in by the Grand Duke and Duchess (she Cuban-born) of Luxembourg. There's President Yuschenko and wife, who was born in a Polish-quarter of Chicago I found out when he addressed the Joint Houses of Congress.

6:56- No sight of any of my Uglies. I'm allowed to lighten the atmosphere, yes?

6:57- The Bells of St. Peter's have stopped tolling. The crowd mills out, slowly, not quite knowing what next. For almost one week, they had a goal -- to see, to participate, to join in the pilgrimage. Now, they are rudderless. For the moment.

6:59- Polish tourist being interviewed. "Some people call him The Great". Some, no, many.

7:00- My final Live Blogging update, 3 hours after I first started and yet I don't feel tired, but in fact, recharged.

Finally, a few words about this remarkable event we have just witnessed. Life is sometimes a mixture of the spontaneous and the choreographed, and the higher you go in life, the less spontaneous it seems to become.

The true gift this Pope gave the world, apart from his living example of union, brotherly love, and harmony, is spontaneity -- despite the rigid conventions of his office. In this, he did what few Popes did before him; and certainly none as well, for so long.

In walking in the lands where we were, he lived amongst us, spoke our languages, heard our wants and desires, chastised us, blessed us and loved us, he was able to transform himself and his office of Pope from a distant and feared Father, to the New Testament vision of a kindlier, more approachable Father.

He who died childless has billions of children to pray for his eternal Soul in heaven.

I dedicate this blog post to the spirit of Pope John Paul II. May he rest in peace.


  • Pope funeral seating controversy!


    By Blogger Jim, at Fri Apr 08, 11:24:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Damn lucky Castro didn't attend, weren't we?

    I can see it now.

    Castro corners Dubya and proffers a hand. Dubya, too dazed by the Queen of Denmark's Chanel N°5 in front, shakes it limply.

    Castro takes this to mean he's weak, and Miami braces itself for another Mariel.



    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Apr 09, 11:41:00 am GMT-4  

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