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John Paul Apparently Pondered Resigning

Will Is Released On Eve of Funeral

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A01

VATICAN CITY, April 8 -- With his health already in serious decline, John Paul II appeared to have contemplated stepping down in 2000, according to his will, which the Vatican released Thursday during final preparations for a funeral of grandeur due a virtual monarch.

Writing in his native Polish, John Paul listed no earthly goods to bequeath. He instructed that his "personal notes" be burned and asked that he be buried not in a tomb but in "bare earth." The document in many passages serves as a final teaching, noting "indescribably difficult and troubled" times for the world, but praising the community of the church and pledging to "entrust myself totally to the mercy of the Lord."

Poles march silently through Krakow en route to a massive open-air Mass marking the end of a national mourning period for the Polish-born pope. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

As the era of John Paul neared its close, the last of about 2 million mourners filed past his body in St. Peter's Basilica. World leaders continued to arrive in Rome for Friday's open-air funeral in St. Peter's Square, where about 300,000 people will watch in person as millions more around the world watch on television.

The will was written in several stages dating from 1979, a year after John Paul was elected pope, through March 17, 2000. It highlights the pope's often pessimistic view of modern society. "Difficult and tense has become the life of the Church as well," he wrote.

John Paul briefly defined his papacy's mission: salvation of mankind and safeguarding of the human family, and protecting all people and nations, in particular Poland. A Vatican official said these three objectives referred to his preaching mission, his defense of life against such practices as abortion and his political activities in favor of peace and for liberating his homeland from communism.

The will suggests that in the year 2000, at the age of 80 and suffering ill health, he contemplated resigning, but it never says that directly. He wrote that he hoped the Lord would "help me recognize how long I must continue this service."

The will says: "It is necessary to ask if it is not the time to repeat the words of the Biblical Simeon, 'Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine.' " The words mean: Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord. But later, he shed his doubts and appealed to the Lord for strength.

Beyond the scriptural references and teachings for which John Paul was well known, the will provides a glimpse of his approachable side. He thanked groups of people generally -- bishops, scientists, artists and journalists -- with whom he had contact. He expressed gratitude to his private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, whom he tasked to destroy his papers, and to Elio Toaff, who as chief rabbi of Rome hosted John Paul when he visited the city's synagogue in 1986.

Plans call for John Paul's body to be placed in a coffin that would then be contained in two other coffins. Interment will be directly in the ground in a grotto beneath the basilica, rather than in a tomb, out of respect for his request for burial in "bare ground."

According to the will, John Paul at one point ordered the College of Cardinals to discuss his funeral with church leaders in Krakow, the Polish city where he spent his days as priest and bishop. The idea appears to have been that he would be buried there. But then he decided against it and left the funeral planning to the cardinals.

Nonetheless, the pope clearly harbored nostalgia for his homeland. "As the end of my life approaches, I return with my memory to the beginning, to my parents, to my brother, to the sister (I never knew because she died before my birth), to the parish in Wadowice, where I was baptized, to that city I love, to my peers, friends from elementary school, high school and the university, up to the time of the occupation when I was a worker, and then in the parish of Niegowic, then St. Florian's in Krakow, to the pastoral ministry of academics, to Krakow and to Rome," he wrote.

"To all of them I want to say one thing only: May God reward you."

"It is a beautiful journey," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.

The funeral will clear the stage for the election of a new pope, scheduled to begin April 18 in the Sistine Chapel. There, 117 cardinals will meet in secret session to vote. But the cardinals will not be sequestered inside the Vatican until then, giving ample opportunity for public, if subtle, statements of their preferences in a new pontiff.

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