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Pilgrims Gather for Pope's Last Journey

She arrived at St. Peter's around 1 p.m. and gradually collected a small group of other Americans who had come to pay homage to the late pope. There was John W. Raines, 31, a former State Department officer who is studying international affairs at the Johns Hopkins University campus in Bologna; Wayne Sherman, 35, a math teacher at San Diego Miramar College; and Angela Sheldon, 40, of Lake Charles, La., who came by train from the Italian city of Vicenza, where she lives with her husband, a captain in the U.S. Air Force.

They talked about their families and their faiths. Sheldon's husband text-messaged her periodically to see how she was holding up. "He's worried about me -- the first time I came to the Vatican I cried and cried," she said.

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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The sun had faded and the air turned chill. After nearly seven hours, the first members of the public were allowed inside the basilica. A woman collapsed, and a group of red-vested emergency technicians rushed her away in a wheelchair.

At 8:30 p.m. Jury and her small group finally made it through the ornamental doors. They moved quickly and silently up the middle aisle, past Michelangelo's "Pieta" and the famed statue of Saint Peter, its right foot almost worn away by pilgrims who have kissed and touched it over the centuries. Then they came to the pope's body, where four Swiss Guards in striped pantaloons stood rigid vigil.

Jury walked arm-in-arm between two of her companions, her hands tightening their grip as she neared the body. She took a breath, then moved on, stopping briefly at a nearby pew to kneel and pray.

"I guess you always just want a little more time," she said.

She kissed each of her companions and thanked them for seeing her through the day, then walked out from the square. The line that had started forming at 1 p.m. now wound all the way down the Via della Conciliazione and around the block to the old Vatican wall. Thousands of people would wait for hours to see the pontiff.

Earlier, at her hotel, Jury had written a five-page note to John Paul that she tied together with a black ribbon and carried with her all day, looking for the right place to deposit it. In the end, she gave it instead to a reporter.

"Forgive me for waiting a day too long to come to Rome," she wrote. "I want so much to tell you how you touched my heart, saved my soul and made me feel okay. You touched so many -- please watch over this troubled time."

Special correspondent Sarah Delaney contributed to this report.

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