After a long day waiting, the news of the death of Pope John Paul II at 21.30 local time still came almost as a surprise to the city. Although people have been making their way to St Peters for the last two days, and although in many ways John Paul II prepared his flock so well for his death, it is still difficult to grasp that this mighty pope is no more. He has been so much a part of this eternal city and the world for so long that the news of his death, after all the days, weeks, months and even years of waiting and watching, can only leave a void.

Even the church bells, which were meant to ring out loudly across the city, seemed to have been struck by grief. There was no deep tolling to tell the city that the pope was dead; in this age of fast media it was the ring of cell phones all over Rome, rather than the huge church bells, that announced the end of an age.

And almost at once, the area around the St Peters Square, which had been the home of ordinary people for the last few days, almost all of whom had some fond and personal memory of this pope, was once again claimed by the Church hierarchy as a powerful array of cardinals and priests started the procedures and rites that mark the passing of one pope to the making of the next. Cardinal Sodano, the Vaticans ex-secretary of state, stepped in to take the first steps into the new era. And silently within the walls of the Vatican it could only be assumed that the cardinal chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, was taking over the ordinary administration of the small state and starting the arrangements for the nine days of official mourning which will now begin.