The following reflection was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this morning. In the last few days I have twice been able to kneel alongside the body of Pope John Paul II, lying in state in St Peter's Basilica. Quietly I have prayed, for him, for the Church, for all the people slowly and movingly filing past, paying their last respects. Some have queued for over 12 hours, yet they have spoken of that time as a genuine pilgrimage, regretting not a moment and treasuring the experience. The face of the dead Pope is, in my eyes, filled with peace. His task completed it is as if he has escaped to the mountains, to the forests with their rushing streams and clear air. They were places he loved, moments in which his spirit breathed deeply of the beauty of the work of the Creator. There he could sense in a remarkable way the Providence of God, who is alone the Lord of all. For this most public of figures had a profound inner spiritual life which alone sustained him in the demands of his office. His daily routines included regular moment of prayer, and longer periods, too, in which he would be alone with his Lord. But now that pilgrimage is ended. This morning, in a private ceremony, his body will be placed in a coffin made of Cyprus wood in preparation for the Funeral Mass. His face will be covered with a cloth of white silk and these prayers will be said: "Lord God, may his face, which has left the light of this world, be illuminated for ever by the true light which is You; May his face, which searched out your ways to show them to the Church, now see your fatherly face, O Lord; May his face, which drew our gaze, now contemplate your beauty and commend us to you, our Eternal Pastor." To that we say "Amen, Amen".
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