04/07/2005 AT 8:30 AM ET
Rome is packed to the max, with authorities on Wednesday having to close down the overflowing lines of mourners wishing to pay last respects to Pope John Paul II. Waits of up to 24 hours are being reported.
Still, kneeling in prayer before the body of the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica Wednesday night was the American contingent, consisting of the President and first lady Laura Bush, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the President’s chief of staff, Andrew Card. Bush is the first American chief executive ever to attend a pope’s funeral.
Friday’s pomp-filled funeral is expected to draw leaders from more than 100 countries and, it is being estimated, some 4 million mourners inside and all around the Vatican. Live TV coverage in the States will begin at 3 a.m. ET.
Officials said Thursday morning’s line was moving quicker, with the wait dramatically shortened to just a few hours, reports the Associated Press. But they announced that the basilica doors would be shut at 10 p.m., making it likely that the line would be closed later in the day to spare pilgrims too far back from waiting in vain.