The World Arrives... and "White Night" Begins
At the same time, though, what's invariably the key gathering-spot for Roman pilgrims is now off-limits until the Main Event. To prepare the area where over a million of the faithful are expected to converge from before sunrise, the basilica, square and the Via della Conciliazione that leads to both were shut down this afternoon until 5.30 tomorrow morning.
Then again, tonight's focus had long ago been directed elsewhere -- to Circus Maximus, where the city's official Vigil gets underway from 8pm (all times Rome).
Alongside the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary which John Paul introduced in 2003 and video testimonies from young people, the three-hour event will feature reflections from two of the late Pope's top aides -- John Paul's secretary of four decades, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, and his influential spokesman, the Spanish layman Joaquin Navarro-Valls -- along with Sr Marie Simon-Pierre, the French religious whose cure from Parkinson's disease was attributed to John Paul's intercession and secured his passage to the penultimate step to sainthood. B16 will close the vigil with a video-linked address; having spent the week resting up at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope is returning from his retreat this afternoon.
Following the evening event, eight historic churches along the path from the Circus to St Peter's will remain open for prayer through what's being called the "White Night" before Beatification Morning dawns.
And once it does, the devotion that John Paul did much to bring in from the Roman cold will be front and center before the 10am Mass, as the crowd is led in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. (The official program for the main rites is posted as a large pdf.)
Early yesterday, the coffin of the late pontiff was removed from the spot it's kept these last six years in the Vatican Grottoes beneath St Peter's and placed before the first Pope's tomb (above). Covered in a gold pall, it'll remain there until the Mass tomorrow, when it's moved to the front of the High Altar for the veneration of the faithful following the liturgy, beginning with Benedict XVI, himself.
So that everyone who wishes to do so can pass by, the basilica will stay open until dawn on Monday. That evening -- following a mid-morning Mass of Thanksgiving outside -- Blessed John Paul's remains will be placed in their new tomb on the main floor, in the side-chapel dedicated to St Sebastian.
That said, however, something special in the beatification's coverage is taking place across the Pond from Rome, and anyone who'd really want the day to feel a bit more like "Christmas" might find it the day's most memorable option of all.
Now retired to his native Philadelphia and suffering the effects of leukemia and anemia, Cardinal John Foley will ride again early tomorrow, as the much-loved narrator of John Paul's life and death for English-speaking audiences worldwide does real-time commentator duty for the local CBS affiliate where, as a high-schooler, his broadcasting days began.
Prior to his February retirement and homecoming after 27 years in Vatican service, the longtime chief of the Holy See's media efforts had earnestly hoped to be able to stay around for the beatification rites, and make it his "last stand" in the play-by-play booth. While Foley's rapidly weakening health precluded that from happening, the cardinal apparently jumped at the offer to do it from home.
Having already recorded some of his reminiscences for radio, "His Foleyness" goes live from 4-6am Eastern on the River City's KYW, which plans to stream it online.