KRAKOW, Poland – Some 300,000 people gathered in a vast field in Krakow (search) to join in Pope John Paul II's (search) funeral by video link, and schools and businesses closed across the country as Poland mourned a national hero.
Many in Krakow spent the night in the Blonie meadows after a Mass that drew a million people to the place where John Paul celebrated several Masses during his visits to the city in which he studied for the priesthood and served as bishop and archbishop.
People sang along with the hymns from the service in Rome as they watched on big television screens, and applauded the homily by the celebrant, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (search).
In Warsaw, sirens wailed for three minutes to announce the start of the funeral to the capital. Stores and schools closed, major newspapers did not publish, and pictures of the pope with black ribbons hung in windows everywhere. In John Paul's hometown of Wadowice, thousands gathered in front of the church where he was baptized.
Some 25,000 people packed Warsaw's Pilsudski Square where the pope celebrated Mass before a million people during his first visit to Poland as pope in 1979. Another 2,000 gathered in the Old Town in front of Saint Ann's Church to watch the funeral on huge television screens.
"The pope was an extraordinary person and did great things," said 18-year-old high school student Janek Chorzewski as he watched the funeral start. "We should follow his example."
Urszula Hurtowska brought her two children to watch the broadcast.
"The pope was always an inspiration to my family," the 27-year-old said. "No one ever gave us such a feeling of pride that we were born as Poles."
In Krakow's Blonie meadows, there were only five screens for the huge space, but that didn't seem to matter to the people who consider John Paul one of their own.
"The point is not in looking but in being here together, just as we were always here together during his visits," said Gosia Glinska, 23, a student at the Fine Arts Academy of Krakow.
Television and radio bulletins told people to bring food, water, even prescription medicine if they needed it for the gathering. Many people lugged blankets or folding chairs.
Police spokesman Dariusz Nowak said the crowd numbered about 300,000.
A Mass in the meadow Thursday night drew an estimated 1 million people, who turned the field into a sea of glowing candles.
In the pope's hometown of Wadowice, the square in front of St. Mary's Basilica where he was baptized was filled with some 15,000 people from the town and surrounding area watching the funeral on a large television screen. An orchestra of firefighters played his favorite song, "The Barge."
"The pope was someone truly exceptional and very close to us," said Anna Kowalska, 43, who came with her husband and teenage children. "We wanted to be here and say farewell to him."
Marek Grabowski, 57, came in from the nearby village of Tomice, where he is a firefighter.
"I took part in all his pilgrimages as one of the church guards, I had a very special, close contact with the pope," he said. "During one of his pilgrimages to Wadowice, he touched my head and blessed me. That's why I really wanted to be here."