Presidents kneel and pray before the Pope

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The Independent Online

Three American presidents knelt in prayer before the corpse of the Pope in St Peter's Basilica last night: President George Bush, his father George Bush Snr and Bill Clinton. With them were the First Lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Three American presidents knelt in prayer before the corpse of the Pope in St Peter's Basilica last night: President George Bush, his father George Bush Snr and Bill Clinton. With them were the First Lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Americans were taken straight to the basilica on arrival in Rome. They will attend the Pope's funeral tomorrow, the first time a serving American president has attended such a ceremony. When Mr Bush came to Rome last June, John Paul II, a vigorous opponent of the war in Iraq, scolded the US president for the "grave unrest" in that country.

At the funeral Mr Bush will find himself seated close to President Khatami of the "Axis of Evil" state Iran. That two such diverse leaders should be obliged to share the same space is one indication of the huge pull of this funeral.

The elaborate funeral rites will draw the biggest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times. Four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and more than 14 leaders of other religions will attend. Some of the dignitaries meet rarely, if ever, a fitting tribute to a Pope who spoke out for world peace.

The American delegation arrived at the basilica at 9pm BST, just as police were stopping any further people from joining the queue to view the Pope's body, which winds for more than a kilometre. More than a million people have already seen the body, many of them waiting more than 12 hours.

"The city centre cannot take the arrival of any more faithful," said Guido Bertolaso, head of crowd control. "Anyone arriving tonight or tomorrow will have no possibility of following the funeral at St. Peter's."

New arrivals, coming in on planes, trains and buses from around the world, were urged to make their way to a special reception area in the suburbs of Rome. The city normally has a population of 3 million but around 4 million visitors have arrived since John Paul's death.

Yesterday the Vatican said the Conclave, the congress of cardinals at which they elect the next pope, will begin on 18 April. During the 10 days between the funeral and the start of the Conclave, the 117 voting cardinals, all those under 80 who are fit enough to attend, are discouraged from discussing the election as they prepare themselves for voting.

In the interim, they are free to say what they want to whom they want, though none have so far been drawn on specifics about their voting intentions .

Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney and the only cardinal from Australia, stuck his neck out further than most yesterday when he said that he believed the next pope would be a conservative on doctrine, as John Paul was.

He said that the Polish Pope's attachment to traditional Church teaching had given Catholics "a strong sense of security", and that he hoped "we'll have the same sense of security with the next pope".

Brazil's Cardinal Serafim Fernandes de Araujo, the Archbishop of Belo Horizonte, said the next pope should address "the problems of the poor, of a poor, sick Africa, of the Third World, of a world without peace... What's certain is that it will not be possible to have another John Paul II. He's unrepeatable."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said of the late Pope's legacy: "What this Pope has left cannot but continue. I'd be unhappy if it all faded. The primacy of a moral voice in the world must continue."

Of the death of John Paul he said: "There's a sense of affection and loss of this great man... He's part of the family. But also there's a sense of completion: it was time that the Pope went to his reward."

The Vatican revealed that the Pope's will says nothing about the identity of any secret, or in pectore, cardinal. Popes throughout the ages have sometimes kept one or more cardinals' identities secret, often for political reasons. There had been speculation that the secret cardinal might be Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the Bishop of Hong Kong, but yesterday he denied it. In the absence of any written proof, any secret may well have died with John Paul.

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