Today's Papers

A Final Farewell

Everyone leads big with yesterday morning’s funeral for Pope John Paul II—a 2-hour-and-40-minute Mass conducted in sometimes brisk wind before some 300,000 mourners, world leaders, and representatives of the world’s major religions and Christian denominations.

The papers all try to capture the grandeur. The Washington Post paints it in high contrast: cheers and applause echoing with churchbells in St. Peter’s Square, but utter silence within the basilica—a globally televised sendoff for a world figure before a humble burial in private. The Los Angeles Timesdescribes the gathering of the  “humble and haughty, the powerful and penitent,” from “cardinals in blood-red vestments,” to “pilgrims, backpackers, and the Roman faithful.” All of it was, in the words of the New York Times, “enfolded in the ellipse of Bernini’s graceful colonnade, in the company of the obelisk dragged from Alexandria by the Emperor Caligula and a dome designed by Michelangelo.”

At the end, as pallbearers turned JPII’s simple cypress coffin to face the hundreds of thousands of mourners one last time before retreating inside for the burial, the papers note that cries rang and signs sprouted throughout the crowd: “ Santo Subito!” Or: “Sainthood Now!” (The WP has a separate story saying such calls are common for popes but are unlikely to speed the process, which, barring an exception granted by his successor, will not begin for five years.)

Everyone pays special attention to the homily by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a Vatican power broker whom the papers call a leading candidate for the papacy. The WP lead goes so far as to call his homily, in effect, “the keynote address” of the conclave to elect a new pope that will convene on April 18. “He roused us from a lethargic faith,” Ratzinger, a conservative, said. “Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time, of joyful hope and profound gratitude.”

According to an LAT conclave fronter, however, all this speculation actually hurts Ratzinger’s chances, since the appearance of eagerness to be pope is frowned upon. Which is perhaps why, just as the buzz was growing last week, Ratzinger’s older brother spoke out to, conveniently, dampen expectations. “My brother wouldn’t have a chance,” he said in a Munich newspaper.

The LAT says the leaders were arrayed according to a complex formula that took into account the number of years a country has had diplomatic ties with the Vatican. The result: President Bush sat not far from Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, whom he ignored, along with Syria’s Bashar Assad. Israeli President Moshe Katsav, however, shook the hands of both, and talked with Khatami about the city in Iran where they both were born. “Maybe today will make us hope of a future of peace, not of conflict and hatred,” Khatami was quoted as saying in an Italian newspaper, according to the LAT and NYT.

For the morbidly curious: Everyone explains that the simple cypress coffin from the ceremony was later placed in a zinc casket, which was, in turn, placed in a walnut one. That’s the more ornate one pictured as it is being lowered into the ground on the cover of the LAT.

On the way back to Texas from the funeral, Bush donned a nylon tracksuit embroidered with the presidential seal and invited a few pool reporters up to the front Air Force One for a wide-ranging conversation, according to the LAT and WP. “I think John Paul II will have a clear legacy of peace, compassion and a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone,” he said, later asking reporters if he could make sure they add the word “excellent” in there, too.

Everyone fronts word that antigay and antiabortion militant and survivalist Eric Rudolph, who allegedly killed two and wounded more than 150 in four bombings over three years, most famously at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta—agreed to a plea bargain in which he’ll avoid facing the death penalty but will serve four consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.

In Iraq, Shiite protesters streamed toward Baghdad for an anti-U.S. demonstration called for today by Moqtada Sadr and set to culminate with a rally in Firdos Square, former home of infamously toppled Saddam statue. Sunni clerics urged their flock to join in as well: “Tomorrow will be the second black anniversary of the Iraq occupation,” one said in a sermon yesterday. “We have seen nothing but bloodshed, destruction, pillage and thievery before the very eyes of the Iraqi people.”

Meanwhile, the LAT reports that the State Department is again reorganizing the troubled and often stalled $18-billion Iraqi reconstruction effort. According to a draft version of report to Congress this week, the money will be spent on job creation and training for Iraqis and transferring many of the remaining contracts to Iraqi companies as opposed to American ones. 

According to early wire reports, insurgents have killed 15 Iraqi soldiers as they traveled in a convoy south of Baghdad.

The NYT has an update on a Chinese researcher for the paper’s Beijing bureau who has been held incommunicado for seven months on charges of revealing state secrets, despite protests from the paper and American officials.

Paper covers rock … The WP fronts the recent story of an asteroid that, for a time, around last Christmas, was given a one-in-38 chance of hitting Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029. Further observation showed that the rock, 2004 MN4, which could “flatten Texas or a couple of European countries,” would pass between 15,000 and 25,000 miles from Earth but might be a danger in the decades to follow. “It would be awfully nice to have information so we don’t get surprised,” says a former astronaut who advocates sending a small rocket to tag it. “Our favorite little asteroid might provide enough reality here to provoke people.”