The world's most powerful people sat in solemn silence but ordinary mourners broke into spontaneous chanting and applause as Pope John Paul II was laid to rest in Rome today.
In an emotionally charged service in St Peter's Square, hundreds of VIPs - kings and princes, presidents and prime ministers - were joined by ordinary people, all anxious to pay tribute to the Pope.
With the great bells of St Peter's Basilica tolling in mourning, 12 pall bearers carried John Paul's simple cypress coffin, emblazoned with the papal emblem, out of the church. The choir started the service by singing the Latin prayer: "Grant him eternal rest, O Lord, and shine your light on him forever."
The coffin was laid on the steps of the vast church, where more than 26 years ago Karol Wojtyla first emerged as pontiff to stun the world with his vitality and charisma.
The Mass was celebrated by some 165 cardinals, led by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, their dean who was one of the Pope's closest friends and aides.
"O God . . . grant your servant and our Pope John Paul, who led your Church with the love of Christ . . . the reward promised in the Gospel," Dr Ratzinger said in a prayer.
Interrupted by applause at least ten times, the usually unflappable German-born Cardinal Ratzinger choked with emotion as he recalled one of John Paul's last public appearances - when he blessed the faithful from his studio window on Easter Sunday.
"We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the father's house, that he sees us and blesses us," he said to applause, even among the prelates, as he pointed up to the third-floor window above the square.
"Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality - our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude," said Dr Ratzinger. He said John Paul was a "priest to the last" and said he had offered his life for God and his flock "especially amid the sufferings of his final months".
After hymns, psalms and readings, senior clergy approached the coffin, prayed for the soul of the Pope, and blessed the body with incense.
The mass ended with all standing and together singing: "May the angels accompany you into heaven, may the martyrs welcome you when you arrive, and lead you to Holy Jerusalem."
The coffin was taken from the basilica down the steps of St Peter to the Vatican crypts where it was closed with red bands, sealed with both papal and Vatican seals.
The Pope will be buried in the traditional three-tiered coffin of cypress, zinc and walnut.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims poured into the Vatican hoping for a glimpse of the ceremony, turning St Peter's Square and surrounding streets into a sea of fluttering flags - many in the colours of the Pope's native Poland.
At least 300,000 people filled the square and Via della Conciliazione straight to the Tiber River, waving flags from the United States, Croatia, Lebanon and elsewhere, many of them adorned with black ribbons of mourning. Banners read "Sainthood Immediately".
Police struggled to hold back the crowds as they surged forward and many faithful fainted from the emotion. Some four million people flooded into the Italian capital to be nearer the Pope for his funeral.
An estimated two million pilgrims filed past the Pope's bier in the Basilica since the pope's body went on public view on Monday. The Vatican finally closed the doors last night.
President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Tánaiste Mary Harney and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny all attended this morning's funeral. Also attending was Prince Charles, who postponed his wedding by a day to honour the Pope, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and representatives of more than 80 countries.
Roman Catholic cardinals will open a conclave on April 18th to elect a new Pope.
John Paul's successor faces the daunting task of leading 1.1 billion Catholics in an era marked by tension between religions, between science and ethics, between doctrine and pressure to change stances on contraception, women, and married priests.