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Thousands gather for John Paul II memorial

Pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square for a special candlelight prayer service to commemorate the late pope's death.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 12:21 IST

Some 60,000 pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on late Sunday for a special candlelight prayer service to commemorate the late pope John Paul II at the hour of his death, 9:37 pm one year ago.

Vatican officials said they expected some 100,000 pilgrims to join in reciting the rosary prayer with Pope Benedict XVI at the appointed time, when the huge bells of St Peter's basilica were to toll in memory of John Paul II.

The bells of his home cathedral in Krakow, Poland, were to ring at the same moment.

Thousands of people were still flocking to the Vatican square an hour before Benedict was to appear at the window of the apartment where his much loved predecessor died on April 2, 2005, after more than 26 years as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

"We were here at this moment a year ago, and now we are reliving the whole thing all over again," said Grazyna Szemraj, 46, one of thousands of Polish pilgrims.

Under a crescent moon, the giant Vatican square twinkled with the light of thousands of candles for the prayer service as choirs sang hymns.

Many held up the red and white flag of John Paul II's native Poland and chatted happily ahead of Benedict's appearance. Many others stood in silent reflection.

"I feel a little sad. He was such a great man, for all the things he did in his life, for his suffering," said 54-year-old Mauro Pallazzoli through tear-filled eyes.

Alicia Zapawa, a Polish woman living in Rome, said commemorating the pope's passing was "an important moment for the whole world."

Behind her, a group from Poland held up a giant banner proclaiming "John Paul the Great, Make him a Saint Now."