VATICAN CITY – Disappointed pilgrims stood before barricades blocking them from going to see the body of John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica (search) early Thursday, chanting "Open, Open," and pleading with police officers to let them join the huge line.
Using text messages and electronic highway signs, the Civil Defense (search) department announced it would stop people from joining the line at 10 p.m. Wednesday to allow time for the last 1 million to pass through the basilica before Friday's funeral.
Those at the back of the line had only a distant view of the basilica's cupola and a wait of 24 hours to look forward to. They will be the last of nearly 2 million people to view the pope's crimson-robed body before the funeral Mass and burial.
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Overwhelmed police officers were unable to seal off the lines until one hour past the deadline.
"You tell these people," said one Civil Defense officer as the cut-off time passed and people continue to stream into the area. "How can we close?"
When the barricades were finally erected, thousands of people gathered behind them, refusing to leave. Frustrated, they pressed close to the metal barriers. Most were young, many with heavy packs on their backs.
Occasionally they called in unison for the police to "open, open," and chanted, "We are not terrorists."
At one point, hundreds of people led by young women breached a double line of barricades. Police raised their hands to stop them but stepped aside rather than risk a confrontation. The group was stopped at a third barricade manned by Carabinieri military police.
Police made a few exceptions.
A Mexican family with two weeping teenagers and a small child was allowed to cross through the barricade and over the bridge to join the end of the line. Rather than protest, the crowd applauded.
Elsewhere, police allowed an ambulance through. The crowd cleared a path for it to pass, and some tried to follow the vehicle through the open gate but were easily stopped. Onlookers groaned and booed.
"We're a little angry because we can't get in. We would like to at least get into St. Peter's to pray. It doesn't matter if we don't manage to see the pope," said Rossana Zampelli, 25, who came from a town in southern Italy.
"He's my spiritual father," said seminarian Antile Alain, 50, from Guadeloupe, who spent two days traveling to Rome. "I find it abnormal to come from so far away and not be able to see the pope," he said.
Sheepish officers told those complaining that they knew nothing, and some even suggested that if enough people hung around authorities might reopen the line.
"We're here because we hope that sooner or later they will let us in," said 43-year-old Mirella Carai, who said she was a Buddhist but still thought that John Paul "was important because he brought peace and dignity."