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With Millions Gathered, Pope John Paul II Is Laid to Rest

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

(SOUND: Religious singing in Latin)

... from the funeral in Vatican City on Friday for Pope John Paul the Second. Political and religious leaders from around the world joined mourners at the services in Saint Peter's Square. The leader of the world's more than one thousand million Roman Catholics died last Saturday at the age of eighty-four.

Now the church must choose a new leader to take the place of the man whose influence helped end communism in Eastern Europe.

The College of Cardinals will begin meeting on April eighteenth. Cardinals are top officials in the church. They are known by their red hats. One hundred seventeen cardinals will elect the next pope.

[On April 9 the Vatican announced that two cardinals were in poor health and would not attend.]

The cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel to hold what is called a conclave. From Latin, that means "with key." The process is meant to involve great secrecy. Except to sleep, the cardinals must stay in the chapel until they have chosen a pope. Church law requires that they hold at least one vote on the first day.

But Vatican observers say it is not likely that a new pope will be elected that quickly. Traditionally two-thirds of the cardinals, plus one, must agree. But the rules permit a simple majority if the cardinals cannot decide after repeated votes.

The cardinals burn unsuccessful ballots, sending up black smoke for people to see. White smoke signals a decision. If that happens, an official announces "habemus papem" -- we have a pope. Then a special ceremony takes place to confirm the new leader.

The last time that happened was in nineteen seventy-eight, when Karol Wojtyla became John Paul the Second. He was fifty-eight, young for a pope. And he was a surprise choice. The Polish priest became the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries. Over the years, he became known for other firsts.

For example, John Paul expressed sorrow for the past treatment of Jews and Muslims by the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first pope to visit Jewish and Islamic religious centers.

John Paul also was the first pope to travel widely around the world. He was like a magnet with crowds, often especially with the young.

Many people considered him a very modern pope. Still, his defense of the traditional teachings of the church brought criticism. John Paul rejected appeals to let Catholics end unwanted pregnancies or use modern birth control. He firmly opposed same-sex relationships. And he defended the stand against women in the clergy.

Still, as many as four million people gathered in Rome as Pope John Paul the Second was laid to rest. The crowds shouted "santo subito," calling for immediate sainthood for the man known as the "people's pope."

IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Steve Ember.