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Pilgrims Gather for Pope's Last Journey

In Rome, American Catholics Mourn, Witness and Pray

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A01

VATICAN CITY, April 4 -- Just 39 hours ago, she was waiting to catch a plane at Los Angeles International Airport when she heard that Pope John Paul II had died. And now Stephanie Jury was standing in another line, amid a somber sea of mourners filling St. Peter's Square in the stern afternoon sun, waiting for her chance to see the body of the late pontiff and bid a last farewell.

For eight hours the 50-year-old woman from Big Bear Lake, Calif., who came alone to Rome on a sleepless all-night flight, watched and waited and pondered how she would feel when the moment came to view the man she considered not just a spiritual leader, but a father who had led her back to God.

The body of Pope John Paul II is carried in procession from the papal residence through crowded St. Peter's Square to St. Peter's Basilica, where it will lie in state until Friday's funeral. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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"My heart was what really brought me here," she said. Staring up at the apartment where the pope had spent his final days, she said, "I wanted to look at that window one more time."

What she and thousands of other pilgrims witnessed Monday was a solemn ritual that began a five-day process of public mourning: the transfer of the pope's body from Clementine Hall to St. Peter's Basilica, where it will lie in state before the funeral on Friday.

They watched from a distance as 12 pallbearers in formal dress carried John Paul's body on a bier covered in red velvet. The procession passed first by the Noble Stairs, the First Loggia, the Hall of the Dukes, the Royal Hall and the Royal Stairs before passing through the Bronze Door out to St. Peter's Square and entering the basilica.

Herded by guards into a fenced-off section of the massive square, Jury and her fellow pilgrims could not see the somber procession firsthand, so they watched it on one of four large video screens. When she first caught a glimpse of the pope's body on the screen, Jury gasped: "Oh Lord, he's lying there!" Most of the crowd, honoring an Italian custom, burst into applause. "I know I'm supposed to clap, but I just can't," she said.

Most of the mourners were young Italians, dressed casually in denims and T-shirts and jogging shoes. Jury, by contrast, wore all black -- a knit blouse, slacks and kerchief. Her eyes, puffy from lack of sleep, were hidden behind large sunglasses.

She was born and raised in Phoenix and has worked in real estate, the fine arts and horse raising. Currently she is a pharmacy technician. Over the years, she has worshiped as an Episcopalian, a Lutheran and now a Catholic. "I'm still trying to find my life," she said.

She had resolved last Thursday to come here after she heard the pope was fading. She bought a round-trip ticket over the Internet for $1,654, including a hotel room for five nights.

She was passing an airport bar on the way to her flight in Los Angeles when she heard the news of his death. She was amazed that others around her did not stop what they were doing. "It was so typically American -- no one really cared," she recalled. "I could not stop crying. I felt so alone."

She had seen the pope in person once, in 1990, when she had toured Rome with her mother. She was standing at a window in the Vatican Museum when he rode past in his bulletproof popemobile. As she recalls it, he ordered his driver to slow the vehicle and looked up at her.

"You know how you feel when someone picks you out of a crowd?" she said. "He looked at me out the back window, and he smiled."

It was partly that memory that compelled her to Rome, she said, but she also felt driven by the death of Terry Schiavo. She had been troubled for weeks -- "I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning because I was afraid to hear that she was dead" -- and had even phoned Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's office and spoken to a staff member to thank the governor for his attempt to restore Schiavo's feeding tube. How could life be held so cheap, she wondered. How could Schiavo's mother be denied the right to look after her daughter?

Jury said she was too anxious to sleep on the long flight to Zurich and then Rome: "I took two sleeping pills, three glasses of wine and a Benadryl, and I still couldn't sleep."

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