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Family Expects Call to Embalm Pope

With the passing of Pope John Paul II (search), a Rome family expected a call from the Vatican to embalm his body.

The tradition, carried down from father to son, has for decades fallen to the Signoracci (search) family, which was called to preserve the remains of the three popes before John Paul II.

"I am waiting for them to call," Massimo Signoracci, one of the family members, said in a phone interview Sunday. "We would be so happy if they did; it'd be a shame to stop the tradition."

Embalming aims to preserve remains and avoid the spread of infection. The practice dates back to ancient Egypt (search) although techniques have changed over the centuries.

John Paul II's remains were on view Sunday for officials of the Roman Curia, authorities and the diplomatic corps.

The Vatican did not say if the body had been treated, but Signoracci said there probably had not been enough time. He said it should be done before Monday afternoon, when the Vatican said the pope's body would be brought to St. Peter's Basilica to allow the faithful to pay their respects.

Signoracci said the Vatican call could come anytime, as the embalming would be necessary before the body is exposed for days in an open coffin.

Reached at his home early Monday, Signoracci sounded discouraged and said he still had not heard from the Vatican.

Italian government officials said as many as 2 million people could pour into Rome to pay tribute to the pope, and it was expected that many of them, as well as tens of thousands of Romans, will want to view the body.

"It is a huge emotion to be near and work on someone so famous and loved," Signoracci said Sunday. "With somebody like the pope, we are ready to do our best, like my relatives did before me."

Signoracci noted that embalming techniques consisted of intravenous injection of formaldehyde fluid for disinfection, as well as removing blood and other liquids from the body.

The Signoracci clan embalmed the remains of Popes John XXIII in 1963, and in 1978, Paul VI and John Paul I, who preceded John Paul II.

Paul VI was only lightly embalmed before his body was put on full display in St. Peter's during Rome's hot summer. But after two days the body began to decay, with skin and fingernails losing their color.

On the contrary, John XXIII's body, which was exhumed in 2001 to be transferred to St. Peter's Basilica 38 years after his death, was preserved in excellent condition.

According to Church procedures, John Paul's funeral will be held within four to six days of his death. The pope died Saturday evening.