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Song of sorrow for John Paul II

Roman Catholic pupils from the UK were in Rome when the Pope died. Stephen Lucas reports

Joseph Bell was in his pyjamas in a Rome guesthouse when he heard that the Pope had died. Half an hour later the 12-year-old, from Cardinal Wiseman RC school, west London, was singing in St Peter's Square.

The Year 7 pupil was one of 11 boys, aged eight to 14 and 19 adults, on a trip to Rome with the choir from St George's RC church in Sudbury, Middlesex.

"I was in bed when another boy came in and said Pope John Paul II had died," he said.

"We got dressed and went down to the square. All the roads were closed and it was quiet when we got to the square. There were thousands of people there but the only sound was of people crying. We ended up singing one of my favourite hymns - Sicut Cervus."

Choirmaster Robert Jones, 26, accompanied the boys to the square. He said:

"We did not leave the square until after one in the morning. People were still filing in. The boys were very moved. Some of the older ones had wanted to go up there immediately. They realised the importance of the occasion."

Other choir members were from the London Oratory, attended by the Prime Minister's oldest children, Cardinal Vaughan memorial school, Kensington, and John Lyon school in Harrow.

Shrines to the Pope have been set up in the entrance to Joseph Bell's school and in the chapel, where children have been praying for Pope John Paul II during break times.

Teachers at Cardinal Wiseman have also been praying with pupils in tutor time, and the school is closed for the Pope's funeral today.

Cecilia Finn, school chaplain said: "Some children have been surprised by the respect people of other faiths have shown for the Pope.

"Children are asking why Charles and Camilla have postponed their wedding - they want to know why they would do that."

The Catholic Education Service emailed a PowerPoint presentation of the Pope's life to the 2,500 RC primaries and secondaries in England and Wales on Sunday.

Oona Stannard, chief executive of the service, said: "Reaching out to teenagers was one of John Paul II's hallmarks, so they will be feeling his death particularly keenly."

Charlotte Williams, an English teacher at North London collegiate school, Edgware, was on a school trip to Rome on Saturday.

"We were on a classics trip, so obviously the emphasis was not on history or religion," she said.

"St Peter's Square was not on the itinerary. Four or five girls thought the Pope's death was poignant but did not go to the square. They are only 14 or 15.

"I did not go to St Peter's Square. I am a Catholic, but you can mark someone's passing quietly - you don't have to do it publicly."


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