The 'Pope of the People' Is Remembered in Prayers

The New York Times
April 3, 2005

In thousands of churches and millions of homes throughout the world,
the people for whom Pope John Paul II had knelt in prayer through
a turbulent quarter-century as leader of the Roman Catholic Church
quietly bent their heads yesterday and prayed for him.

Some prayed for a miraculous recovery that Vatican doctors warned
was unlikely; many accepted what seemed increasingly inevitable and
simply prayed that the pope would be graced with a peaceful death.

As the cardinals of the church began to assemble in Rome to prepare
for the ancient process of selecting the next pontiff, the faithful,
some too young to have known any other pope, others old enough to
have appreciated how different this one was from his predecessors,
gathered to pray and to remember.

They remembered not the frail old man who struggled for breath at his
last public appearance Wednesday, but the powerfully built figure
in flowing white robes who was known in every country as the pope
of the people. They talked of his goodness and of his greatness;
of his remarkable life and what they saw as his courageous struggle
with death.

In the many parts of the world that he visited during his
26-year-reign, people felt a special attachment, as though a friend
or relative lay dying. And even in places where the pope had longed
to be but never set foot, like Russia, his name was on the lips and
in the hearts of many.


Stanislav Sobotta, whose last name, he says, "means Sabbath," could
not stay away from church this weekend, especially because he lives
in Moscow, far from his hometown of Lezhaisk, a beer-bottling town
in Poland. He felt he needed to pray for the ailing pope.

"Papa is a symbol, and of course I came to pray for him, it's just
so, so sad," Mr. Sobotta, a businessman, said as he rushed in for
the first 8:30 a.m. Mass on Saturday morning.

"And besides, I am from Poland, and Poles built this church, you know,"
he says proudly, striding into a red-brick Catholic cathedral that
reopened after the Soviet Union collapsed and people openly practiced
religion after decades of persecution.

At the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Mowcow, Father Aleksandr
had just finished the first of many mournful Masses. They will last all
day in half a dozen languages-Russian, Spanish, Korean, Armenian. "We
pray God will be with him in these last difficult moments," the priest
says to the Russian-language service. "He lived a holy life."

Outside after Mass, in the cold sun, Father Aleksandr buttoned his
black coat and recalled the fervor with which the pope had pursued
closer ties with Russia.

"He always asked people who went to visit him from Russia, 'What are
you hearing in Moscow? What's new there?' " he said. "He never was
allowed to visit, although he always wanted to. He knew what it was
like here under Communism and in Soviet times, to live without God."
Erin E. Arvelund


John Paul did get to see the Holy Land, and his visit to Jerusalem
in March 2000 resonated not just among Catholics there but among all
the faiths that mingle on that revered site.

Josephine Apostol waited patiently in line on Saturday at the Church of
the Holy Sepulcher, which Pope John Paul II called "the mother of all
churches" on his historic visit there. Like the pope, she kissed the
marble slab where tradition says Jesus's body was prepared for burial.

Then she prayed for the soul of John Paul II, a man she said "had
served the whole world."

Ms. Apostol, 28, from the Philippines, works as a caregiver in Tel
Aviv. "He seems a kind man," she said, as priests in long black robes,
full of dust, moved around the worshippers and tourists to replace
dead candles.

"It's why all the people of the world sympathize with him and pray
for him," she said.

In the courtyard, Hussein Cordi, who works as a tour guide and scout
for Dajani's Orient Bazaar, a souvenir shop in the Old City, said that
Muslims were also praying for the pope. "Everyone knows about him,"
said Mr. Cordi, who lives in Bethlehem.

"Everyone remembers his visit to the D'heisha refugee camp, and when
he went there, everyone cried." The pope's visit to the camp was
unprecedented, and gave Palestinians a sense that he shared their
difficulties, Mr. Cordi said.

Pope John Paul II will be most remembered in Jerusalem for his effort
to bind the three faiths of the riven city, considered holy to all
of them, and to make a lasting reconciliation between Roman Catholics
and Jews.

Shimon Peres, deputy prime minister, told Israel Army radio that the
pope "was a true spiritual leader who prayed everywhere for peace
and love of others."

"He impressed me at each of our meetings by his rare mixture of a
sense of history and personal charm." Steven Erlanger


At Our Lady of the Victories church on busy Kensington High Street
young worshippers came in the midst of shopping excursions, laden
with bags from supermarkets and clothing stores, just to spend a few
minutes reflecting on the pope and the efforts he made to reach out
to young Catholics around the world.

Patricia Nava, a 27-year-old student from Bolivia, said she admired
the pope's perseverance in traveling outside of Italy, even through
his illnesses and advancing old age. "He understood the values that we
have to live by," she said, "the values that are important to follow."

Teresa Chapman, a store clerk, said that the pope's greatest
achievement was to "come out to the world and not stay in the Vatican,
like all the others."

In Rome, even as the pope lay weakening, he was said to have
acknowledged the young people who had gathered in the plaza outside
St. Peter's and those around the world who were praying for him:
"I have looked for you. Now you have come." Sarah Lyall

New York

At St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the first Mass of a bleak
and rainy day drew a small crowd of tourists and visitors along with
a few people who work in the neighborhood. The police had set up
barricades anticipating large crowds, but by midmorning the streets
were empty. Those who came clearly had the pope in their thoughts.

The French Club from the Wellsburg Middle School in Wellsburg, W.V.,
had other plans for their last weekend in New York but detoured to
the cathedral at the instigation of Robyn Heaton, a teacher from
the school.

Mrs. Heaton, a Baptist, said the momentousness of the pope's situation
shifted their plans. "We came to show respect," she said.

Sean O'Shaughnessy, a dental surgeon from Dublin who was passing
through New York on his way to Washington, came to the early Mass as
an act of communion.

"Being here allows me to be with my friends at home in Ireland and
indeed all over the world who are also at Mass today praying for the
Holy Father," Mr. O'Shaughnessy said. "John Paul is the first pope of
the media age to bring the word and image together - with the others
you had the printed word but with him you had the whole package."
Jim Dwyer


In Krakow, concerns about the pope brought a flood of memories about
the places associated most intimately with his beginnings.

Outside Father Adam Boniecki's office and around the corner is the
stately, ocher colored residence of the Bishop of Krakow where John
Paul lived when he held that position and where he used to stay on
visits to the city. Over the past two days, the grassy space below
the window was filled with people standing silently, just looking up
at the window where the pope used to appear.

At the edge of the square is the 13th-century Church of Saint Francis,
where the pope used to celebrate Mass and where on Saturday a wedding
celebration was taking place - life as usual on an unusual day.

"For me it's very moving to see young people crying here in the
square," said Father Andrzej Zajac, the principal priest at the
church. "But you can see that on a day when the head of the church
is dying, there was a baptism in the morning and a wedding in the
afternoon, because the commonwealth of the church is a living thing."

Father Zajac said that during the war, the pope was a factory worker
and often visited the church. "On one of his visits here after he
became pope, I remember him saying, 'Who could have imagined that
this worker in wooden sandals would come back here as pope?'

"He said, 'This is very important, because it shows that anyone,
even someone from a poor background, can reach the top of human
possibilities.' " Richard Bernstein