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 CNS Story:

POPE-CHANGES Apr-4-2005 (630 words) xxxi

With death of Pope John Paul, Vatican changes many procedures

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When people around the world turned on their TV sets April 3, they saw live coverage of the body of Pope John Paul II lying in Clementine Hall for a private viewing by Vatican officials.

That was unheard-of in the past, and it's one of the many ways this papal death is breaking new ground at the Vatican.

The dead pope's image has traditionally been considered something to be protected from the media, with strict permission needed to take photographs. This time, outside photographers were invited in quickly, and a live TV feed was offered to networks all over the world.

The Vatican seemed to understand that for the pope who traveled the world while alive mourning his death was a global event.

Those who came to the Clementine Hall for the private viewing included diplomats and their families. Decorum was maintained, but the mourners included one man wearing a backward baseball cap and several young people in jeans.

The Vatican also turned a page when it came to the clinical details of the pope's death. In the not too distant past, a prelate used a small silver hammer to ascertain papal death, striking the pontiff three times on the forehead while calling out his name.

This time, instead of the silver hammer, papal doctors used an electrocardiogram to make sure the pope was dead. Then the Vatican released the full contents of the death certificate, an unprecedented move.

The pope's wide popularity in life created a logistical problem for the Vatican when he was on his deathbed: Tens of thousands of the faithful streamed to St. Peter's Square to pray.

The first night, the Vatican closed the square, but it was opened on the two successive nights. Vatican officials joined the prayer vigils, improvising from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

These were moments that no one had scripted. The night the pope died, the small group of Vatican officials stood on the steps and looked at each other briefly to decide what to do, then announced the pope's death to the crowd.

Most of the tens of thousands who came to pray at the Vatican were young people. On lampposts, column bases and TV screen stands, they began leaving flowers, candles, personal notes and drawings as remembrances to the pope. The usually strict authorities allowed these homemade shrines to grow and were careful to leave them in place.

The pope's death was announced to journalists in an unprecedented way -- in an e-mail. That created confusion in the press office, where several dozen reporters were preparing to spend another night April 2. Most had been expecting a personal announcement by the director of the Vatican press office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

For years, the Vatican has had an arrangement with major agencies, including Catholic News Service, whenever there is big news: A cell-phone alert tells them to check their e-mail inboxes for an urgent Vatican statement.

So after the pope died, reporters' cell phones beeped and the e-mailed death announcement began appearing less than a minute later -- or longer, depending on the order of arrival. In fact, chaos reigned in the press office for several minutes; those who had not received an e-mail pleaded desperately for confirmation from the agencies that did. There were a few screams -- not of grief, but of being late on a story.

The Vatican spokesman showed up much later, to fill in the details.

In the Internet age, which was born during Pope John Paul's pontificate, the Vatican also marked his passing by changing its home page to the theme of "Sede Vacante" ("Vacant See.") The site featured an elaborate series of pages detailing the highlights of Pope John Paul's life and papacy.


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