OPENING OF THE PAPAL TOMB
BY JOHN THAVIS
POPE JOHN PAUL II’S tomb was opened on Friday and his coffin removed so that pilgrims could venerate his remains in St Peter’s Basilica.
During a brief ceremony 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 coffin 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 coffin, which was covered with an embroidered gold cloth, was moved to a spot in front of the main altar on the basilica’s upper level on Sunday morning so pilgrims from all over the world could pray before it after the beatification Mass. The basilica remained open until every last pilgrim had been able to pray in front of the coffin.
Then, on Monday, it was moved to a new tomb site in the chapel of St Sebastian, located on the main floor of the basilica, next to the Pietà. Until this year the chapel had held the remains of Innocent XI, who died in 1689. Popes who are beatified are tradi tionally moved into St Peter’s Basilica.
The inscribed marble slab that covered Pope John Paul’s original tomb is being sent to Kraków, Poland, where it will be placed in a new church dedicated to Blessed John Paul, the Vatican said. The church, which is being opened this month, is located near the former Solvay chemical factory where Karol Wojtyła worked as a labourer during World War II.
Vatican officials said the three-layer coffin 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, was to be carried to the altar in a silver reliquary by Sister Tobiana, who served John Paul II for most of her life, and French Sister Marie Simon Pierre, whose cure from Parkinson’s disease was accepted as the miracle that paved the way for his beatification.
The reliquary was made by a silversmith in Rome and shaped to look like an olive branch. The blood inside it was drawn from John Paul II by his personal physician in case he ever needed a blood transfusion. It was one of four vials taken from the late pope in the last years of his life. Two vials went to the pope’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Kraków and the other two remained in the custody of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul at the hospital. One of these vials will be kept in the new Krakow church dedicated to John Paul II. The blood in all four vials has not solidified because an anticoagulant had been added at the time the blood was drawn.
At a briefing in the Vatican press office Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, announced a new beatification page at Vatican.va that includes a multi-media 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 had 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 afterwards. 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.