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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

4 Million Gather in Rome for Pope's Funeral

VATICAN CITY -- Presidents, royalty and millions of pilgrims massed in Rome on Thursday for the funeral of Pope John Paul II in the biggest gathering of the powerful and the humble in modern times.

In death, the Polish pontiff who traveled to more countries than any other pope in 2,000 years was drawing millions from around the world for his funeral, to be held outdoors Friday morning in St. Peter's Square.

Thousands of pilgrims, among an estimated 4 million packed into Rome, waited cheerfully in the brisk morning air after an all-night vigil to be among the last to see John Paul's body lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica.

The line was far shorter than on Wednesday when anxious authorities told pilgrims to stay away from the saturated city and police blocked any more from joining the queue.

"It was incredibly cold in the night," said Maciej Kubat, a 21-year-old student who waited 18 hours in line after coming from Krakow, where John Paul was archbishop before becoming pope. "We got in for about 10 minutes, but it was worth it. I came because this was the best way I knew to show my respect for our Pole."

Among the kings, queens and powerful to attend Friday's funeral, U.S. President George W. Bush led the way late Wednesday, visiting the Pope's body along with his two immediate predecessors -- his father, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

Aboard Air Force One on the flight from Washington, Clinton and the elder Bush had fond memories of the Pontiff, who opposed the two Gulf Wars led by the Bush presidents but supported Clinton's intervention in Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

"He differed with us on Desert Storm [in 1991]," the elder Bush said. "He worried about the length of the war and the loss of innocents."

Clinton, himself a consummate politician, recalled John Paul's ability to energize people. "The man knows how to build a crowd," Clinton said.

Among other leaders who were to attend Friday's funeral, which was to start at 10 a.m. local time, are President Mohammad Khatami of Iran -- the country President George W. Bush accused of being part of an "axis of evil" -- and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, as well as the king and queen of Spain.

Later on Thursday, Bush was to meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of his closest allies in the war in Iraq, which the Pope staunchly opposed.

Italy deployed anti-aircraft missiles, a warship off the coast and thousands of security forces to protect the city.

To permit the swarm of pilgrims to congregate near St. Peter's Square on Friday, all cars will be banned, and public offices, schools and many shops will be closed.

Behind the walls of Vatican City, the cardinals of the Catholic Church turned their minds to John Paul's successor.

The Pope's 15-page will, which was read to cardinals Wednesday, was due to be published Thursday. It speaks more about his spiritual legacy than the few possessions he had to pass on to his long-serving aides, a Vatican source said.

Cardinals under the age of 80 -- there are 117 in all -- will start a conclave on April 18 to pick the man who will inherit the throne of St. Peter.

On Thursday, pilgrims still in the shrinking line sang songs and waved flags, knowing they would be the last to see the pope's body lying in state before the basilica's doors closed later that day.

A student from Belfast who had been turned away by police after spending his entire savings to come to Rome was inexplicably let back into line Thursday. "I can't believe it," an ecstatic Louis McVeigh, 21, said. "It all worked out well in the end. I'm just in shock."