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Vatican Prepares for Pope's Funeral

Aired April 3, 2005 - 10:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the Vatican. It's 4:30 in the afternoon here, 10:30 back in New York. I'm Bill Hemmer reporting live again from Vatican City watching now the next movement for the Roman Catholic Church.
It has to decide and announce what the next steps will be in the schedule, when the funeral will take place, when the burial will take place and also the official starting time for the conclave, this gathering of cardinals that will take place here in Vatican City to announce and vote on the next pope here at the Vatican.

A lot of things we can tell you about throughout the day here, a number of things happening down on the ground behind me at St. Peter's Square. There is a line of people that numbers in the thousands waiting as it snakes its way through St. Peter's Square, waiting to get inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

It has been that way for hours now and they come from all over the world. There were Sisters of Charity down in the line there that famous order founded by Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India with the traditional white with the blue trim around the habit and around the collars and around the sleeves. They are here.

You can see the flag from Poland, the flag from the Vatican here. People from all over the world now coming to pay their respects in the square of St. Peter's where a very large mass was held earlier today, well over 50,000, which is the first of a series of masses that will take place in the next several days. Vatican law dictates that a mass will take place every day during this period of mourning, nine days here in Vatican City.

A few more things I do want to point out before we get to our next guest here. Earlier today watching the viewing for Pope John Paul II, there was a private ceremony held for a very select group here in the Vatican.

These were cardinals and these were archbishops and they were diplomats invited by the church and invited by the Vatican to come and pay their final respects to Pope John Paul II.

So much as we can tell at this point we've watched it from a camera from Vatican television for about three and a half hours but now that camera has gone off as of 30 minutes ago. It's quite possible either that viewing session has ended or it may end sometime very soon. And, if that is the case, we will -- the next time we will see the body of Pope John Paul II will be sometime Monday afternoon lying in state for the public to see at St. Peter's Basilica.

Jeff Israely is the Bureau Chief here in Rome for "Time" magazine. He was with us yesterday, back again today. How are you Jeff? Good afternoon to you. This is the first time we've had a chance to talk today. You've been canvassing the Italian newspapers and what have you seen in there that you found today as a result of last night's news?

JEFF ISRAELY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, it's a mix of looking back on this pope's life and on his legacy and, of course, the first glances forward to the process for mourning for this pope and for burying him and then, of course, for moving on and looking towards a successor.

HEMMER: There was a phrase though that you picked out that we were talking about before during the commercial (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ISRAELY: It's traditionally the Italians had a term for it back in past centuries that the moment the pope died it was called the "Moment of Terror." It was the moment when suddenly the absolute monarch was gone and, of course, this is a monarchy that is not passed down through lineage but requires a new leader to come in.

And, in the past, all sorts of intrigue and troubling things could happen and for that they have these rituals and they have these rules for how to -- how to bid goodbye to this pope and then to pick his successor.

HEMMER: Almost a period of uncertainty is what I think you're trying to describe to us too that the Italian people feel and that was printed today.


HEMMER: As we look toward a successor, Jeff, and when the conclave begins and the process begins, it may take a day. It may take several weeks. If you go back several hundred years it took about a year and a half. But is there a clear line of succession that anybody is talking about now that they weren't talking about this time yesterday?

ISRAELY: No, we can't say that any new indications have come over the past 24 hours and, in fact, over the next few days the cardinals will, in fact, be focused on the process of mourning for this pope and for planning for his funeral.

Once the funeral happens, I think some serious discussions, of course, in private will begin amongst the cardinals. How much of it we'll be privy to is unclear but at that point this campaign will start taking shape.

HEMMER: The other thing we've learned from the Vatican today was the news about its cause of death and in that statement they admitted for the first time officially that Pope John Paul II was suffering from Parkinson's. Why was that such a, not a secret but why was it never official here from the Vatican?

ISRAELY: Well, I think it's part of sort of a long tradition, a hesitancy to speak about the pope's health. Also the disease itself, of course, is a debilitating disease and Vatican officials were worried that this pope would begin to lose his function, which in fact he did.

He began to have trouble speaking and eventually was unable to walk. And I think it brought on a lot of uncertainty, this specific disease that the pope was afflicted with.

With that said, the Vatican unofficially they stopped denying it at a certain point about three or four years ago and we began just going with it and printing it as if it were fact and they had no problem with that.

HEMMER: Thank you Jeff, Jeff Israely from "Time" magazine here.

That statement went on to say that the pope indeed suffered from septic shock, that phrase we've been talking about medically for the past several days now, also cardio and circulatory failure. And, again, I mentioned the condition of Parkinson's that was also included in that statement.

As we canvass the globe again today we continue to get a reaction. This in from the Dalai Lama a short time ago. He talked about the immediate common ground that he had when he first met the pope many years ago.

He talked about the pope growing up under communist Poland and the Dalai Lama mentioning his own struggles against the Chinese government there so an immediate common ground was the phrase the Dalai Lama used earlier today when reflecting on the life of Pope John Paul II.

More from the Vatican in a moment, back to Soledad now in New York.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Bill, thanks.

Monsignor William Kerr is the executive director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. joining us this morning to talk a little bit about how the center is mourning the man whose name it bears. It's nice to see you Monsignor Kerr. Thank you for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Thank you.

It's a sad day yet I think you get the sense certainly there's a lot of joy in remembering somebody certainly who had as much of an impact as Pope John Paul II did. How has it been for you today? KERR: Well, it's been ever since the announcement was made that the Holy Father had died at the Pope John II Cultural Center here in Washington we have had people coming to sign condolence books, to speak to others, complete strangers perhaps but to tell them of their remembrances of this man and the impact that he had on them personally.

There were tears at the center that were shed as people wrote notes. One man who was unable to write came in and said he wanted somebody else to write in the condolence book for him a message, "John Paul II, I love you."

Others have been just telling marvelous stories and so it's been reminiscing. It's been an experience of community, if you will. It's been a very marvelous moment.

O'BRIEN: You met with the pope I know last year. What was that like and how did that meeting go as far as shaping what you wanted to present at the cultural center?

KERR: Well, very clearly he has set down many times when he was addressing the cultural center he did not want it to be a monument to him. He wanted it to be a living and very active resource center where the issues of the times would be discussed and what might be called a think tank where the great treasures, if you will, of the church and of Christianity but also of other faiths might be exhibited so that people could come to appreciate the depth of people's appreciation of God and of others.

And, all of that is what he talked about in November when we were there, very briefly. He was able to articulate at that time in November and was understood somewhat clearly. He was brief in his remarks but he continued to encourage us to be the center where faith intersected with culture.

To be that in Washington, D.C., which he considered to be the crossroads of the world and that's exactly what we intend to do with his inspiration. Again, it's not a monument to him as he said it should not be but with his inspiration we intend to talk about the things that he talked about, pursue the things that he did, open the doors to peoples of all faiths and all backgrounds and try to bring humanity together just a little bit more.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting there.

KERR: Sure.

O'BRIEN: But I'm curious to know how you present this final chapter in his life and the chapter on his death as well. How do you present that at the cultural center?

KERR: Soledad, we present that as his last homily. He was a teacher all his life. He communicated from the very beginning and very difficult circumstances and at the very end of his life he taught us many things in what I like to say was his last homily, taught us that aging, you know, you're still a valuable human being even though you are aging. And sometimes in our contemporary culture we don't think that.

When you're ill, when you're sick, you're still a valuable human being. When you're not at your best you can still make a contribution. All of those were messages that were part of his final homily and we are celebrating the end of his life as his final homily.

He simply communicated continually, even last week tried to communicate from his window with the people he loved and was unable to speak but nevertheless his example spoke and I think that's what we're celebrating, the legacy of a man who loved and served until the very end.

O'BRIEN: It's a huge honor in a lot of ways a giant challenge to get it right when so many people know this pope so well and feel like they knew him so intimately isn't it?

KERR: This is true, Soledad. I've said many times the world has watched as though a family member were ill and now I think the world mourns as though a family member had died and they feel that close.

The intimacy that peoples of all parts of this world felt toward this man is remarkable, even those I might say who have disagreed with him on particular issues have felt the warmth of his love and feel diminished a bit by the lack of his presence in the world.

O'BRIEN: Monsignor William Kerr is the executive director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. It's nice to talk to you this morning Monsignor. Thank you for your time.

KERR: Thank you Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Our special edition of AMERICAN MORNING continues in just a moment. We're live from both New York and from Rome. Stay with us.


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: St. Peter's on this first Sunday in April, coming up late on a Sunday afternoon. The size of the crowd in the square, you can't quite see it in that shot I don't believe, but I can see it behind me, has grown some over the last hour or so.

People have been coming and staying and praying and crying and sharing a moment, a religious moment at a moment in history as well today and that will go on for some days here in Rome as the world mourns the passing of John Paul.

Charles Sennott is with us. He covers Europe, a small beat, for the "Boston Globe." You wrote the lead, this is the journalist's story. In the lead in a newspaper story you try and capture the essence of what that story is. This is one of the great leads to have written and I'm sure your editors weighed in.


BROWN: The lead in the "Boston Globe" said what? SENNOTT: The lead said that this was the end of one of the most extraordinary papacies in the 2,000 year history of the church but it was a lead by consensus with my colleague, who is our religion writer back in Boston, and the editors had a lot to say with it. The hard part was to try to capture such an enormous life in less than 25 words.

BROWN: Yes. There are enormous issues facing the church, particularly in Europe. Europe has become a more secularized place, a less religious place over time. That's a challenge for the church and a challenge for the next pope.

SENNOTT: It is. I mean if you look at the issues that face the next papacy and you look at them from the perspective of this curio, which is very Euro-centric, most of the cardinals are European. That is an enormous issue for them the idea of a dwindling, brittle, frail, dying church.

I mean if you go into church on a Sunday in Paris or you go into the countryside in Spain or you go anywhere in Catholic Europe, the churches are largely empty. The people who are there tend to be elderly women with gray hair.


SENNOTT: And one of the counter issues for that frail, dying church is the extraordinary (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the Muslim population, the construction of mosques.

BROWN: And in...

SENNOTT: And they're packed.

BROWN: With seconds here, a minute, the church that must deal with Islam also and within the church there is conflict in how to deal with Islam.

SENNOTT: There is. I mean there is a camp that wants to engage dialogue to continue the interfaith work that this pope did so well. I mean this was an extraordinary papacy in its outreach to Muslims and to Jews.

This is the only person I think that ever went into the Middle East and came out with both sides loving him, really feeling him. That's an extraordinary feat in and of itself.

But I think the argument within the curia now is do we engage? Do we talk to Islam? There's another branch that's more conservative, I guess you'd use that word that says no. Let's be real about where the Muslim faith is coming from.

They're anti-Western, which means anti-Christian and they want to kind of be clear about that and they talk about what they call reciprocity to say, look, we welcome you into the west.

BROWN: If. SENNOTT: But what about you welcoming us into the Middle East?


SENNOTT: It is illegal to have a New Testament in Saudi Arabia.


SENNOTT: And that is an issue that I think deserves attention, not only for that interface between Christendom and Islam but also very importantly for the Christians of the Holy Land, Arab Christians who are diminishing, caught in the middle and need some attention.

BROWN: That's just an unbelievably interesting challenge, whether it be in the Arab world or even in Europe itself, which has this enormous influx of Muslims over the last years.

SENNOTT: It does. I mean if you look even on the outskirts of Rome here there's a new mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Europe, $65 million mosque paid for by Saudi Arabia. Islam is alive.

Even in Spain in Andalusia there is deep yearning in the Muslim world for the return to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the golden age of Islam, and they talk about this in their mosques and they say we want to come back.

BROWN: Good to meet you.

SENNOTT: Nice to meet you.

BROWN: Thank you.

SENNOTT: Thank you.

BROWN: Thanks for coming in.

The passing of the pope is an opportunity in many respects to talk about a lot of the theological issues that confront all of us in our lives and it would be a mistake not to take advantage of it as CNN's special coverage of the passing of Pope John Paul continues in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody to AMERICAN MORNING's extended coverage. We're coming to you on a Sunday morning from both New York City and Rome, Italy.

Sometime in the next 20 days, 117 cardinals will meet to begin the process of choosing the new pope. The ritual is known as conclave, from a Latin expression which means to lock with a key. That dates back to the 13th century when the cardinals were actually locked up if they could not break the deadlock.

Well, conclaves are shrouded in secrecy but tonight a behind-the- scenes look at the Vatican airs on the National Geographic Channel. Joining us this morning is John Bredar. He's a producer of "Inside the Vatican." He spent three months capturing the sights seen by very few outside of the church hierarchy.

It's nice to see you, John, thanks for being with us. We have spoken a lot about what happens as the cardinals meet in conclave to pick the next pope but there is a remarkable moment in your documentary which talks about once the new pope is chosen he will walk across the floor of the Sistine Chapel. Tell me about that as we look at some of the pictures.

JOHN BREDAR, PRODUCER, "INSIDE THE VATICAN": Yes, in retrospect thinking back to the filming of that sequence it's taken on a whole lot more power. What happens is as you see in the footage is a man is selected by his peers.

He's been elected pope and he has to walk across this fantastic mosaic floor. He's heading towards this door, which leads to a room called the Room of Tears. And, what strikes me about it is, you know, up until that moment the guy was just one of many cardinals. He was part of that peer group.

And now he's been chosen by them. He literally has to stand up and walk out of the College of Cardinals and to me imagining the kind of burden that was coming down on his shoulders as he makes that walk towards that door, it really explains why the room is called the Room of Tears.

He goes into that room. He changes into the white vestments, which he will wear for the rest of his life. He comes back into the Sistine Chapel and he's for the first time greeted as the Holy Father and it has to be an unbelievably monumental moment.

O'BRIEN: I think it's fair to say words almost don't quite do the job...

BREDAR: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: ...of describing how that person and who knows who that will be but how that person must feel. Inside the Room of Tears you talk about the three robes. There are three robes hanging there, why three?

BREDAR: Well, you know, the cardinal electors don't know whether they're going to be selecting a big guy, a middle guy or a small guy, so they cover their bases by having three different sizes and the man who is elected goes in and makes the appropriate choice.

O'BRIEN: You spent three months, as we mentioned, shooting something that most of us will never have an opportunity to see outside of watching your documentary. The secret archives where are they are what's in them?

BREDAR: Well, the secret archives of the Vatican is a bit of a misnomer but essentially it's just an archive of all the correspondence from, you know, almost all the popes. They're actually in a giant courtyard bunker that's inside the Vatican Palace, many floors of poured concrete. It's like walking through the stacks of an old library in some respects.

And you go through there and the documents you see are -- it's mind blowing. For example, at one point we saw the restoration of a letter written by Michelangelo at a time very similar to this. It was in between popes.

He was writing a complaint letter, essentially saying, look, I'm trying to build St. Peter's Basilica. You're not giving me enough guards. People are coming in. They're stealing the building materials. There's going to be a big scandal and it's not going to be my fault. So, to see, you know, Michelangelo in his own hand was spectacular and a bunch of other incredible documents.

O'BRIEN: Fascinating, fascinating stuff. John Bredar is the producer of "Inside the Vatican." It's on the National Geographic Channel tonight. John, thanks for talking with us.

BREDAR: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Our live coverage from both Rome and New York continues in just a moment. Remembering Pope John Paul II on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING, stay with us.


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