Global Flock Braces for the Loss of Its Shepherd

By JODI WILGOREN

New York Times

April 2, 2005

From St. Peter's Square in Rome to the churches that remained open into the night in Warsaw to the pews of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, millions of Roman Catholics interrupted their routine yesterday to stand vigil and offer prayers for Pope John Paul II.

Leslie Martin, 35, had not been to Mass since her mother died of lung cancer five years ago but came to Holy Name just before noon to offer perhaps a final prayer for the only pope she had ever known, the man whose picture hung next to that of Jesus in the Catholic schools of her youth.

"I felt propelled to come here today because my heart felt so heavy," Ms. Martin said. "It just hurts," she added. "He needs all the prayers of his people."

Around the world millions flocked to churches and special Masses to honor the pope's life and legacy. Some prayed for him to survive his latest downturn. Many more prayed for the grace of an easy passing. They prayed, too, for the next pope, whoever that might be, and for themselves, that they might find a spiritual leader they would love as well.

Leaders and lay people teetered on the brink of mourning, recalling the pope's global accomplishments as well as the way he had touched their lives individually.

The president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, noted on Polish television that John Paul was the first pope in history to visit mosques and synagogues, saying: "He gave us values. He gave us courage to act more effectively in the world arena."

"The world will be different without John Paul II," Mr. Kwasniewski added.

In Nairobi, Jacinta Mumbi Kariuki, 52, a grandmother in a rear pew at the Consolata Cathedral, said, "I didn't meet him face to face when he came to Kenya a while back, but I saw him, and I've always felt like I know him so well."

Cardinal Francis George, Chicago's archbishop, told an unusually large crowd at Mass that "the successor to Peter, the fisherman, is dying," adding, "I thank you for being here in his agony."

In Warsaw, where the Polish pope is revered as the savior from 40 years of Communism, churches remained open overnight as people in the streets willed him to survive. In Latin America, the region with the world's largest concentration of Roman Catholics and the place the pope had called "the continent of hope," parishioners wept before a bronze statue of John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

In Paris, special prayers were announced at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, while Palestinian Christians held vigils in Jerusalem's Old City and in Jesus' birthplace, Bethlehem, and worshipers filled church pews in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

In Washington, President Bush was kept informed of the pope's health. "The president and Mrs. Bush join people all across the world and are praying for the Holy Father," said Scott McClelland, the White House spokesman. "He is in our thoughts and prayers at this time."

The outpouring was, perhaps, most profound in the many places that history's best-traveled pope had visited on his tours of 129 countries over a reign of nearly 27 years. At Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, where he led evening vespers on Oct. 4, 1995, people hovered in the transept chapel, where a brass kneeler on which the pope took the holy sacrament sits under a large portrait of John Paul II.

"If we lose him, we lose a lot," said Nancy Volpe, 45, who kissed his portrait, and said she believed the pope's 1995 visit helped heal her broken back, enabling her to walk. "He's given a lot of people hope. There's no words to say how I feel."

Martin Matyj, 20, a waiter at the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck, Mich., outside Detroit, said that he walked three hours to see the pope when he was a boy in Poland, and that since coming to the United States three years ago, he had watched the pope's Mass over the Internet whenever he missed church on Sundays.

"Every single time, I'd wait until the end, when the pope would say something in Polish," Mr. Matyj said. "It just felt so good to hear him say something in your own language."

On the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan, Brian Flanagan paused to recall his days as a Foreign Service officer stationed in Moscow, watching John Paul lend his voice and authority to the Polish Solidarity movement, the first cracks in the Soviet bloc. "He's a beacon of morality for us, and he has been all along," said Mr. Flanagan, who regularly attends early-morning Mass. "At the time of Solidarity, there was nobody who had a clearer understanding of what was going on. The certitude, the quiet leadership - you can see it all now."

In New Orleans, Dwayne Robinson, 20, who lives in a home for at-risk youth, prostrated himself on the ground before a statue of the Virgin Mary inside a small stone grotto on the border of the French Quarter, while his friend Juliette Wise, also 20 and a Russian immigrant, sobbed and asked, "Why?"

Bishops led Masses in Los Angeles, Boston, Baltimore and other major cities. As St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown Washington emptied, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick reminisced.

Cardinal McCarrick said he first met Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, in 1976 at a breakfast in New York, and jokingly told him he had been called back from vacation for the event and would likely never get the days back. A few years later, when they met again in Rome, the new Pope John Paul II asked then-Bishop McCarrick if he had ever finished that interrupted holiday.

"That he remembered me and that conversation is such a sign of his great love for people," Cardinal McCarrick said. "He was a man of so many talents. How miraculous that the church found him at that point in his life."

In St. Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the leader of the Archdiocese of New York, concelebrated the 7:30 Mass. Among the day's Scripture readings was one describing how Peter, the first pope, spoke of the stone rejected by the builders that had become the cornerstone. These words were particularly appropriate, the cardinal said, "at this time that Peter's successor is so gravely ill."

Just as Peter had endured trials and persecution, the cardinal said, so had John Paul, nearly 2,000 years later in Poland, as that country was gripped by two totalitarian forces for much of the 20th century. The Nazis prohibited the training of priests, Cardinal Egan said, just as the young man who would become Pope John Paul II felt a calling to the priesthood.

"When the Nazis left, in came the Communists," Cardinal Egan said. "Again, he stood up to them."

Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity leader who later became the Polish president, said, "He always kept repeating, 'Don't be afraid,' and we in the Solidarity movement trusted him."

Álvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, with the third-largest Catholic population in Latin America, celebrated the "spiritual strength of a pontiff who often spoke out about his country's violence. "I feel sad but tranquil," Mr. Uribe said, "because the pope was always an example."

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Reisterstown, Md., outside Baltimore, who traveled to Rome in January with an international delegation to thank the pope for his work on behalf of Jews, praised his establishment of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Israel and his visit to the Western Wall, site of the ancient Temple.

"Just as Moses did not retire, but served his people to the very end and continued to teach his people to the very end, I thought the pope was teaching to the very end," Rabbi Wohlberg said. John Paul, he added, embodied "the dignity of life and old age and the sanctity of life from beginning to end."

As at churches around the country and, indeed, the world, the regular crowd at noon Mass at the Holy Name Cathedral near Chicago's Miracle Mile swelled with tourists and workers; people in business suits, religious robes or worn jeans; hobbling on canes and walkers or holding the hands of young children; black and white; Asian, Irish, Italian and Polish; Catholic and non-Catholic.

"I'm Presbyterian, but it doesn't matter," said Mary Lou Manning, 69, who sat in a back pew. "I love the pope."

Philip Kubala, 42, a maintenance worker who immigrated from Poland 14 years ago, brought his 8-year-old daughter, Michelle. "My parents passed away - the pope was like second father to me, grandfather," he explained, choking on tears.

Susan Tassone, 52, who works in the diocesan mission office, brought a worn photograph of herself meeting the pope in Rome, and a small plastic bag of coins he had blessed. "He's a giant," she said. "He's going to be a saint. Beyond a saint, they call him The Great."

Paula Strobel, visiting Chicago from Normal, Ill., to celebrate her 38th wedding anniversary, said she was praying "not so much for the pope but for those who will be choosing a new pope, that they have the wisdom."

Ms. Martin, the retail clerk who was at her first Mass in five years, moved from a back pew to sit near the front of the cathedral, mouthing the familiar hymns, kneeling with folded hands, joining the long line to take communion.

She recalled traveling with her entire parish from Mobile, Ala., to see the pope at the Superdome in New Orleans in 1984, and remembered her father, four months younger than the pope and now beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's, saying throughout her childhood, "as long as the pope lives and does well healthwise, I'll be O.K."

"He's going to be pope until his last breath," she said. "That's what I admire about him, and that's what gives me hope for my own self. No matter what the adversity is, you can find the strength within yourself to go on."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Neela Banerjee, Richard Bernstein, Colin Campbell, Jim Dwyer, Juan Forero, Gary Gately, Jason George, Clifford Krauss, Marc Lacey, Jeremy W. Peters and Katy Reckdahl.