Vatican moves to quiet speculation on next pope, John Paul's canonization

Sun Foreign Staff

VATICAN CITY - After a papal funeral that spread images of Catholicism throughout the world, Vatican officials imposed an information blackout yesterday to allow the cardinals who will choose a new pope to enter "an intense period of silence and prayer."

A Vatican statement said a withdrawal from the spotlight will let the cardinals concentrate and reflect on the conclave, to begin April 18, in which they are to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II. But the blackout will also help squelch speculation about the cardinals' preferences for the next pontiff.

This period of silence "should not be interpreted as rudeness," said Vatican spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who addressed his remarks to "honored journalists."

Vatican officials also sought yesterday to quiet the voices in Rome that have called for Pope John Paul to be made a saint immediately, bypassing formal church procedures that typically require at least a five-year wait. Navarro-Valls stressed that any such decisions about canonization must wait at least until the new pope is chosen.

If the announcements succeed in dimming the world's focus on Vatican City it will be a remarkable change from Friday, when the pope's funeral became one of the most widely watched religious ceremonies in history.

But the change would be no more extraordinary than that already evident in the streets of Rome, which seemed to return to normal overnight. The Italian news media praised public officials who coordinated an event whose seamlessness appeared to surprise nearly everyone.

Airports and train stations were only slightly more crowded than usual yesterday, and Italian television said the tent cities on the outskirts of Rome were being dismantled quickly and peacefully. The only reports of crime linked to the pilgrimage involved price-gouging by a few merchants, who were cited by undercover police.

Estimates of the pilgrimage's size ranged from 2 million people to 4 million. By late yesterday, even the trash they left behind - 250 tons, according to city officials - was mostly gone, scoured from the streets by teams of sweeper trucks and fire hoses.

"I did only my duty," Guido Bertolaso, who as chairman of Italy's Civil Defense Department helped organize public safety, told the newspaper il Messaggero.

One of the few visible signs of the previous day's event came in central Rome, when squads of armed carabinieri, or paramilitary police, swarmed into traffic to hold off oncoming cars so that a caravan of black sedans could whisk through the red lights. Merchants and taxi drivers said that the caravan held foreign government officials who had not made their exodus Friday, when other car traffic in Rome was banned, and that it was not the first such caravan they had seen.

At Stazione Termini, Rome's central train terminal, the few obvious pilgrims remaining said they had tickets for trains that would be leaving in the afternoon. The terminal - which the mayor announced yesterday would be renamed after Pope John Paul - added 1,000 trains over the past week with a total of 500,000 seats, city officials said.

At Rome's Fiumicino Airport, Spaniards Francisco Rabadan and Fernando de Jorge, both 17, were camped out near the check-in gate for their flight back to Madrid, having spent Thursday and Friday on the streets near the Vatican.

There had been no hotel rooms available, they said, though they could not have afforded one anyway. Rabadan said he was exhausted, and de Jorge, strumming a guitar, said he had never been so tired. But the trip was worth it, they said.

"If we started to complain about being uncomfortable, we would stop and remember how the pope suffered and never complained," Rabadan said. "If I am honest, I would have chosen a bed and a shower, but maybe it was a better way to show our love to sleep in the cold."

City officials expected few problems with the remaining visitors.

A quieter Rome would suit Vatican officials, who must move past the more ceremonial and public aspects of the pope's death and get on with the intensely secretive conclave. Vatican security officers have begun sweeping the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals will deliberate, for electronic recording or listening devices.

One hundred fifteen cardinals will vote in the conclave, two fewer than originally believed. Cardinals Jaime L. Sin of the Philippines and Adolfo Antonio Suarez Rivera of Mexico are too ill to travel to Rome, the Vatican said yesterday. The College of Cardinals will be sequestered inside the chapel at 4:30 p.m. April 18 and will not emerge publicly until the next pope is revealed.

Among the new pope's first duties might be to address sentiment among supporters of Pope John Paul that he should be declared a saint.

There have been several calls in Italy for bypassing the church's formal canonization procedures and declaring the Polish pope a saint based on the vox populi, the voice of the people.

Each time sainthood is raised publicly it increases the profile of the campaign and, thus, speculation about its merits, such as when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, referred to Pope John Paul as il grande, or "the great" - a title not bestowed lightly in Vatican City.

Sun staff writer Todd Richissin contributed to this article.

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