VATICAN CITY—In death, as in life, he mesmerized the world. Pope John Paul II was laid in a plain cypress coffin Friday and eulogized on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica in a grand funeral that drew millions of pilgrims and leaders from all corners of the Earth.
The Polish-born pontiff, whose death April 2 ended the third-longest papacy in history, was then buried quietly in a marble crypt below the church, the place of rest for many of John Paul's predecessors through the ages.
The funeral Mass was punctuated by frequent applause, a sign of respect here, and signs and chants demanding John Paul be declared a saint: "Santo Subito!" "Sainthood Now!" Others waved red and white flags from the pope's homeland and chanted "Polska, Polska"; still others chanted his name: "Giovanni Paolo!" "John Paul!"
All of this might have seemed unusual for such a solemn occasion, but it pointed to the popular appeal of the 20th century's most influential pope.
German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals and a close confidant of John Paul, led the service, which opened with Gregorian chants and closed with the peal of church bells. He remembered the youth who came of age in Nazi-occupied Poland and the sharp intellect who chose the priesthood in Krakow.
"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality," said Ratzinger, often mentioned as a candidate to be the next pope. "Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude."
At the conclusion of the public portion of the ceremony, 12 white-gloved pallbearers lifted the wooden casket to their shoulders, strode to the massive portals of St. Peter's Basilica, then turned back toward the crowd to allow a final goodbye.
Inside the church, cardinals in blood-red vestments formed an honor guard in the nave. Each removed his skullcap as the coffin was carried past, then into the grottoes below.
"It was total silence," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles recalled. "After the Holy Father had passed by and everybody had left, we [cardinals] turned to go back to take our vestments off, and no one said a word."
Only members of the papal household and a handful of senior prelates accompanied John Paul into the crypt. The coffin was sealed in red ribbon, encased in a zinc container and then placed into another wooden casket, the Vatican said.
About 2:20 p.m., the coffin was lowered into a grave, which was covered with a marble slab, the Vatican said. This was in keeping with the pope's wishes, handwritten in the margins of his last will and testament, to be interred "in the ground" as a sign of humility, and not in the ornately carved, aboveground sarcophagi that popes traditionally choose.
John Paul was buried in the same tomb used by Pope John XXIII until he was transferred to a more public part of the church following his beatification in 2000.
Earlier, as the requiem Mass got underway, the Sistine Chapel choir sang hymns and readers recited selections from the Bible. Sunlight broke through clouds in a blue-silver sky while a brisk wind whipped the cassocks and vestments of the gathered prelates. Later, the skies grew darker.
A tapestry portraying the resurrection of Christ hung above the massive church portals.
Ratzinger's homily was interrupted at least 10 times by applause, notably when he mentioned the pope's dedication to the young and his public struggle with disability and death.
Ratzinger recalled one of the final appearances of the pope at his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square, on Easter Sunday, when he struggled mightily to bless the crowds below, but was no longer able to speak.
Gesturing toward the still-shuttered apartment window, Ratzinger said: "We can be sure that our beloved pope is now at the window of the house of the Father, and he sees us and he blesses us."
Ratzinger's sermon focused on Jesus' words to Peter, the apostle who became the first pope. Jesus asked Peter to follow him and to care for his flock, essentially installing him in the long line of men who would become the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.