Pope's body is exhumed from crypt ahead of beatification
Pope John Paul's coffin was exhumed yesterday ahead of his beatification as tens of thousands of people began arriving in Rome for one of the biggest events since his funeral in 2005.
The Vatican said the coffin was removed from the crypts below St Peter's Basilica while top Vatican officials and some of the late Pope's closest aides looked on and prayed.
The wooden coffin will be placed in front of the main altar of St Peter's Basilica. After tomorrow's Beatification Mass, it will remain in that spot and the basilica will remain open until all visitors who want to view it have done so.
It will then be moved to a new crypt under an altar in a side chapel near Michelangelo's statue of the Pieta. The marble slab that covered his first burial place will be sent to Poland.
Ireland's two cardinals arrived in Rome last night to take part in tomorrow's beatification.
After the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton yesterday, Cardinal Sean Brady flew directly to Rome from London. Cardinal Desmond Connell, the retired Archbishop of Dublin, also arrived in Rome last night and joined Cardinal Brady at the Pontifical Irish College, where they will be staying while attending the three-day event.
The two Irish cardinals will take part at the Mass in St Peter's Square, which will begin at 10am Irish time. Also participating at the Mass will be the Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley.
As the Vatican prepares to move the late Pontiff one step closer to sainthood, Rome has been caught up with beatification fever.
Large television towers are being erected along Via Della Conciliazione, the boulevard leading from the Tiber to the Vatican.
At least several hundred thousand people are expected at the Mass in St Peter's Square, when John Paul's successor Pope Benedict XVI will pronounce a Latin formula declaring one of the most popular popes in history a "blessed" of the church.
At least 16 heads of state and 87 official delegations from around the world will attend the beatification.
The Vatican has deemed that the otherwise inexplicable cure of a French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, who was suffering from Parkinson's disease, was due to John Paul's intercession with God to perform a miracle, thus permitting the beatification to go ahead.
Another miracle will have to be attributed to John Paul's intercession after the beatification in order for him to be declared a saint.
The late Pope is being beatified on the day the church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy, which this year falls on May 1, and is the most important feast in the communist world. The coincidence is ironic, given that many believe the former Pope played a key role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Beatification-related activities will begin in Rome's Circus Maximus, the sprawling oval used by the ancient Romans for chariot races, where an all-night prayer vigil will be held.
John Paul's beatification has set a new speed record for modern times, taking place six years and one month after his death on April 2, 2005.
Meanwhile, in Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will say a special Mass in St Mary's Pro Cathedral at 6.30pm tomorrow to mark the beatification ceremony in Rome.