Pope condemns 'the vile and grave attack': Pomp and anger as thousands of mourners cram into Milan cathedral precincts to honour car-bomb victims

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The Independent Online
ROME - Silence descended on the centre of Milan yesterday as thousands of people packed the precinct of the city's Gothic cathedral for the funeral of the victims of Tuesday's car bombs, writes Fiona Leney.

Three thousand people, including politicians and anti-corruption investigators, crammed into the Duomo, some in tears, others fanning themselves and mopping brows to cope with the suffocating heat. All broke into applause as the coffins of the three firemen and a traffic warden, covered by the tricolour and topped with their helmets and bouquets, were carried through the massive bronze portals on the shoulders of colleagues. Fifty priests assisted the Cardinal of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, to celebrate the funeral with all the pomp and gravity of a high Mass.

Cardinal Martini read out a telegram from the Pope condemning 'the vile and grave attack', which killed Stefano Picerno, Carlo Lacatena, Sergio Pasotto and Alessandro Ferrari. His own homily was more outspoken. 'Those who perpetrate such horrendous acts, who present us with the coffins of innocents, who throw mothers and fathers into mourning . . . are marked out with eternal infamy.' The Cardinal also remembered Driss Moussafir, the homeless Moroccan immigrant who was killed by the blast as he slept on a park bench. His body was carried to the portals of the cathedral before being taken on to a mosque for a Muslim service.

Unlike the funerals of Mafia victims last year, where grieving relatives hurled abuse at the political representatives who dared attend, yesterday's was a more dignified, if no less sad, affair. After all, here there was no clearly defined villain, but a signal of public feeling came when the judge who started the anti- corruption investigation in Milan, Antonio di Pietro - something of a national hero - arrived at the cathedral. The crowds erupted into applause almost as prolonged as that for the coffins. Many shouted 'You are our only hope' or 'To the gallows with them'.

In Rome, the heads of the security services and the top anti-Mafia investigators and anti-corruption judges were in meetings aimed at reassuring the public that action was being taken to find the culprits.

(Photograph omitted)