Italian Police Turning Back Pope Mourners

The lines waiting to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II’s body are so long that Italian police are starting to turn them away.

Italian Police Start Turning Back Mourners (AP)

After electronic highway signs and cell phone text messages failed to staunch the flow of pilgrims, police stepped in Wednesday to turn back mourners hoping to join the 24-hour line to view the body of Pope John Paul II, on a day that brought almost 1 million people to the Vatican.

The crowd control problems developed hours after the College of Cardinals set April 18 as the start of its conclave in the Sistine Chapel to choose a successor to John Paul, a papal election with new rules and new technological challenges.

Using a special entrance for VIPs, President Bush viewed the body with his wife, Laura, along with his father, former President Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, shortly after the U.S. delegation reached Rome. They knelt in a pew in front of the remains, bowing their heads in prayer, joining a million pilgrims who had filed solemnly through St. Peter’s Basilica.

Seeking to clear the basilica by Thursday evening so the Vatican could prepare for John Paul’s funeral the following day, police announced they were closing the line at 10 p.m. Text messages were sent over Italian cellular phone lines. Those at the back would wait 24 hours before entering the basilica. “We’re just hoping the order can be reversed,” said Federica Bruni, a 20-year-old student who came from northern Italy and was one of the first to be told to go away Wednesday night.

This is simply phenomenal. One suspects there will be complaints that VIPs, who didn’t have to wait in line and aren’t even Catholic, got priority treatment while legitimate mourners got turned away.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.