VATICAN CITY - As night turned to day, and day back into night, the funeral service for Pope John Paul II have continued here in Rome and show no signs of abating. Already nearing the twenty hour mark, Vatican officials have confirmed that they intend to make a run at the world record - which stands at thirty-six hours.
As news spread among the millions assembled in St. Peter's Square and the surrounding area, a cheer erupted: "We're number one!, we're number one!" and echoed through the streets of Rome.
Minnie, who traveled to Rome from her native Kenya, had this to say of the news, "Oh, it is hard on the feet to be standing so long, but it is worth standing here - especially if we are able to break the world's record. Now that would be something to be able to tell ones children and grandchildren."
Minnie, and the millions of other like her, will be happy to hear that this funeral is already one for the record books - it is the largest funeral in history. Stewart Newport, the keep of the records for the Guinness Book of World Records said that while crowd estimates would need to be confirmed, it appeared that the old record [held by the crowds gathered for the funeral of Gamal Nassar] had been far exceeded.
"If it is true that three to five million people are here, I think that will be a very high bar for anyone to beat in the future," said Newport. "The Vatican played this own very shrewdly and were able to generate strong worldwide interest through great use of the media. I expect that these recent few weeks will be used as a case study for years to come."
Another clever move by the Vatican has been the liberal interspersion of lighter moments during the generally solemn rites. Comedia del arte, marionettes, jugglers, sword swallowers, knife throwers, illusionists and prestidigitators, musicians, clowns are just a few of the performers that are circulating through the assembled crowds.
"I think it's a good thing," said Eric Hasselhoff, from Clearwater, Florida. "We're pretty far from the action where we are here. The big TV helps, but I can't understand a word they're saying. There was a guy on stilts though doing balloon animals for the kids and that was fun."
Maintaining the proper balance between piety and pleasure will be critical as the Vatican makes a run for the record. Keeping a crowd counted in the millions - and which includes kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers and religious leaders from around the world - engaged is no small order.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is celebrating the Mass was seen checking his watch at the ceremony neared the twenty hour mark. He smiled and gave the crowd a big thumbs-up. "We can do it," he shouted in his native German, "we can do it!"