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Europe

Poland Mourns John Paul II

Millions of candles, minutes of silence, buttonholes, badges and poems by mobile phone text message were just a few of the ways John Paul II's Polish compatriots have been paying tribute to their late beloved pope.

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Krakow: mourning a native son

Poland is observing six days of mourning, ending in a holiday on Friday for the pope's funeral. This week, millions of Poles have attended church ceremonies and open-air masses to pray for their late countryman, Karol Wojtyla. Tens of thousands have started the journey to Rome on a pilgrimage to be near the pope when he is laid to rest.

In Krakow, the southern city where Karol Wojtyla spent 40 years of his adult life, taxis and ambulances had black ribbons tied to their antennas, and sometimes the red and white of the Polish flag or the yellow and white of the papal banner. The two flags also fluttered side by side outside government and office buildings, private homes and apartment blocks around the country.

Outside a shop in the capital's eastern Wola neighborhood that specialized in propaganda articles during communist times people queued for four hours to buy a flag. The papal flag had sold out, shop staff said, even at 35 zlotys (8.75 euros) versus 15 zlotys for a Polish flag.

A nation in mourning

Trauer um den Papst in Warschau

About 200,000 Poles turned out for a farewell mass in Warsaw on Tuesday, gathering at the square where the late pope once rallied the nation to fight communist rule.

Many people were wearing black crepe buttonholes, in a sign of mourning, and in Krakow, badges with the city's coat of arms against a black background were handed out by officials.

Excerpts from the pope's homilies and poems are sent by mobile telephone text message. One message, received by an AFP journalist, was from the pope's Roman Tryptic, published in 2003. "And yet, I am not dying entirely. The part of me that cannot be destroyed is face to face with He who exists eternally," it read.

Sales of books and discs with John Paul II's homilies have sky-rocketed since the pope's death. Large companies, members of parliament, professional bodies and private individuals have bought pages in newspapers to pay their own homage to John Paul II in the media.

"He has gone to his maker, Holy Father John Paul II, Poland's pope," wrote the notice taken out by the association of architects in Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

On hold until the funeral

Nachtwache für toten Papst in Polen

Soccer fans from the Cracovia club, where John Paul II used to play as a youth, attend a mass for the late pope in Krakow on Monday.

Theaters have gone dark until after the pope's funeral in Rome on Friday, with the national theater canceling a production called "The Holy Father's Skis" -- a comedy that tells the story of an unexpected visit by Karol Wojtyla to a mountain hamlet.

The doors of churches have remained open day and night and welcome more faithful than usual. Inside and outside, seas of candles flicker day and night, in the pope's memory.

The archbishop's palace in Krakow, the basilica of Our Lady in Wadowice, the town where the pope was born on May 18, 1920, have become places of pilgrimage for people of every age, and books of condolence have been opened around Poland, at the apostolic nuncio in Warsaw and the sanctuary of Jasna Gora in the southern city of Czestochowa.

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