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Pilgrims Pray and Appeal For Help at Pope's Grave

Adulation May Affect Election of Successor

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page A16

VATICAN CITY, April 13 -- Pilgrims bringing prayers and appeals for heavenly help filed past Pope John Paul II's grave site Wednesday, part of a continuing adulation of the Roman Catholic pontiff that analysts here say has political ramifications for the election of his successor.

The grave, covered by a gray-dappled white marble slab, lies beneath St. Peter's Basilica among the sarcophagi of several other popes. Several hundred people passed by it each hour, ushers waving them briskly along. Rosa Maria Arguello of Managua, Nicaragua, clutched a rosary and a handwritten note requesting help for her bedridden husband. "I believe he was holy and is already at God's side," she said of the pope.

Faithful line up to pray at the grave site of Pope John Paul II under St. Peter's Basilica. His tomb is located among the sarcophagi of several other popes. (L'osservatore Romano Via AP)

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When she emerged from the grotto, she said she had hardly had time to lay the note down before being ordered to move on. "I couldn't even cross myself," she said.

Some tourists took photos with their cell-phone cameras. "I want to send messages with the pope's picture to all my friends," said Raffaele Marrazo of the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria. "They will think it's a kind of blessing."

The requests for John Paul's aid have contributed to an atmosphere in Vatican City favoring his rapid canonization. Officials close to the pope have repeatedly declared that he exercised miraculous powers during his lifetime. Vatican rules, however, say miracles must occur after John Paul's death for them to be considered part of the saint-making process.

Still, John Paul's admirers have called for him to be quickly recognized as a saint, meaning the church would waive rules that require a five-year delay before beginning the process of canonization. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope's longtime enforcer of Catholic doctrine, has said the pope is already at God's side -- an indication that he was in fact a saint.

Some Catholic analysts regard the official adulation as more than simple admiration. Rather, they contend, it is aimed at influencing the election of a new pope in a conclave set to begin April 18. "This is a movie script promoted by cardinals who want continuity, who want someone to be selected who follows the pope's line on everything," said Giovanni Avena, editor of the Catholic newsletter Adista.

Praise for John Paul is regarded as a plus for the German-born Ratzinger, who, like the pope, brooked no dissent on such issues as contraception, abortion, celibacy for priests and the prohibition of the ordination of women. On Wednesday, he published a new book, titled "Values in a Time of Upheaval," that calls on Europe to return to its Christian roots and condemns divorce and gay marriage, according to the Associated Press.

Italian newspapers reported that one-third to nearly half of the voting cardinals have signaled support for Ratzinger. There was no indication of who had made the estimate. Such reports could have been floated by Ratzinger supporters to create momentum, or by detractors to urge his rivals into action, some analysts suggested.

In several accounts of the secret pre-conclave meetings that the cardinals have conducted this week, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan, took center stage as a kind of anti-Ratzinger.

Martini favors more cooperation between the papacy and local bishops and focuses more on social issues than Ratzinger does. In the scenarios imagined by some analysts of the Catholic Church, Martini and Ratzinger would in effect run against each other in the early rounds of the conclave, then, if they lacked enough votes to win, rally support for their own favorites.

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