VATICAN CITY, APR 8, 2005 (VIS) - Before the start of the funeral Mass today for John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in the presence of an estimated 300,000 people, including over 200 heads of State and government, the deceased Pope's body was placed in a cypress casket and closed in the presence of a number of witnesses.

Among those present for this rite were Cardinals Martinez Somalo, camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, Angelo Sodano, former secretary of state, Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, Camillo Ruini, vicar for the diocese of Rome, Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, and Archbishops Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Holy Father's personal secretary and James Harvey, prefect of the Papal Household.

The cardinal camerlengo introduced the rite of the closing of the casket. Archbishop Piero Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, then read the "Rogito," a summary of the life of the Pope, copies of which were signed by those present. An antiphon and psalm were sung, followed by silent prayer. The master of ceremonies than placed a veil of white silk over the head of the deceased and the cardinal camerlengo sprinkled the body with holy water. The master of ceremonies then placed a bag with some medals coined during the pontificate of the deceased and a lead tube containing the original copy of the Rogito in the casket. As the casket was closed, Psalm 41 was recited.

The casket of John Paul II was brought to St. Peter's Square in procession, placed on a carpet on the ground in front of the main alter and a book of Gospels was placed on top of the casket and opened. The procession included the College of Cardinals and the patriarchs of the Oriental Churches, all in red vestments, who kissed the altar before taking their places. Mass was presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and concelebrated by 164 cardinals.

Millions of people who had come to Rome for John Paul's funeral but who could not be accommodated in St. Peter's Square itself, watched the ceremony on 27 giant screens placed throughout the city, including at the two football stadiums, Tor Vergata University, the Circus Maximus, the basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Risorgimento near the Vatican, the Colosseum and Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue leading to St. Peter's Square.

Many of those in St. Peter's Square, at various times during the Mass, called out for John Paul II to be proclaimed a saint. These calls, accompanied by sustained applause, began as Cardinal Ratzinger finished his homily A number of banners could be seen with the words "Santo Subito" (a saint immediately) and "John Paul II the Great" and one, with his papal crest, saying "Pope John Paul II - saint."

Following the prayer after communion Cardinal Ratzinger proceeded to the rite of the final recommendation and act of committal, standing by the casket of John Paul II. Cardinal Ruini then stood next to the casket, the cantors sang the Litany of Saints and the cardinal vicar then concluded the supplication of the Church of Rome with a prayer and returned to his seat.

At this point the patriarchs and archbishops major and metropolitans of the Catholic Oriental metropolitan Churches "sui iuris", went to the casket and, facing the altar, recited the supplication of the Oriental Churches from the Office of the Dead of the Byzantine liturgy. Everyone present prayed in silence and Cardinal Ratzinger sprinkled holy water on the remains while the choir sang a response.

The casket of John Paul II was then brought into the Vatican Basilica to the place of burial as the faithful sang the Magnificat. Those present earlier at the closing of the casket accompanied it into the basilica. John Paul II was brought to the grotto area of St. Peter's Basilica for burial in a rite presided over by the cardinal camerlengo.

The cypress casket with the mortal remains of John Paul II was tied with red ribbons on which were placed the seals of the Apostolic Camera, the Prefecture of the Papal Household, the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and the Vatican Chapter. The cypress casket was then placed in the zinc and wood caskets which were soldered shut and covered with the seals of the aforementioned offices. On the top are the cross and coat-of-arms of John Paul II. The notary of the Basilica Chapter verified the act of burial and read it to those present.

Attending today's funeral Mass for the Holy Father were reigning monarchs of 10 countries, 57 heads of State, 3 hereditary princes, 17 heads of government, the heads of 3 international organizations and representatives from 10 others, 3 spouses of heads of State, 8 vice heads of State, 6 vice prime ministers, 4 presidents of parliaments, 12 foreign ministers, 13 ministers, and ambassadors from 24 countries.

Religious delegations, numbering 140 people, included representatives from the Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Churches and ecclesial communions of the West, international Christian organizations, the National Association of Evangelicals, representatives of Judaism, Islam and delegations from non-Christian religions.