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By FRANCIS X. ROCCA
c. 2011 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The casket of the late Pope John Paul II was exhumed Friday (April 29), in preparation for the late pontiff’s beatification ceremony on Sunday.

John Paul’s casket was removed in the early morning hours from its tomb in the Vatican Grottoes, under St. Peter’s Basilica, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

At 9 a.m., a brief prayer service at the opened tomb was attended by several Vatican officials, including the church’s No. 2 official, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Several dozen others, including nuns who worked in the papal residence during John Paul’s reign, also attended.

The casket was then wheeled about 20 yards to a spot beside the tomb of St. Peter, where it will remain until it is carried up to a spot in front of the basilica’s main altar.

After Pope Benedict XVI declares his predecessor “blessed” and puts him one step away from sainthood on Sunday, the public will be admitted to pay homage to John Paul’s remains until the early morning hours of Monday (May 2).

On Monday evening, the casket will be moved to a new permanent home in the basilica’s Chapel of St. Sebastian, near Michelangelo’s famed statue of the Pieta.

Lombardi said that John Paul’s body rests in a nested set of three caskets, one of metal and two of wood. The outermost casket is adorned with a cross, John Paul’s papal coat of arms, and a plaque inscribed in Latin with key dates of his life and pontificate.

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