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Catholics Respond to Pope's Passing

Area schools and churches, as well as those who met the pope, remember John Paul II, who died on April 2.

Sitting in her office at the Nativity School in Burke, Principal Maria Kelly watched the television Monday, as the live feed from Rome showed footage of Pope John Paul II's body being carried to St. Peter's Basilica for public viewing in Vatican City.

"I'm happy that his suffering is over and that he is in heaven," said Kelly. "It was wonderful to have somebody in the Catholic Church to look up to who was following the Holy Spirit who didn't have his own agenda."

Along with other area Catholics, Kelly mourned the loss of the pope, who died from heart failure due to complications from a urinary infection on Saturday, April 2. He was 84 years old, and served as pontiff for 26 years, the longest tenure of any pope since Pope Pius IX's 31-year tenure ended in 1878.

The mourning for the pope's death was mixed with hope for many, however.

"He didn't want us to be sad. You didn't feel sad for him as much as relief. His earthly body was so pain-stricken," said Kathleen Kraus-Zadrozny, a seventh grade religion and social studies teacher at St. Bernadette School in Springfield. Kraus-Zadrozny said she was 10 months old when the pope took office in 1978.

"He's been so much a part of our lives for so long, you can't describe it. You get accustomed to saying in church, 'And for our Pope John Paul.' The bishops always change, but his presence was felt for so long," she said.

AREA CHURCHES and schools planned services and memorials throughout the week, to remember and learn.

At Nativity, Kelly said the school will be taking part in the "Novena of Prayer," saying special prayers for the nine days after the pope's death during morning announcements. The school conducted a prayer service on Wednesday, April 6, and older students were assigned to write an essay, "What I Want to Emulate from Pope John Paul II's Life," which they will send to the Vatican, along with drawings from younger students.

Kelly said she hopes the pope's example inspires her students.

"Society always changes, but we can always look to the Holy Father," she said. "The doctrine won't change. He's right there, if things start to change. It's helpful to have someone to look to, to guide us."

At St. Bernadette, students will attend a Mass at the church, on Friday, April 8, at 9 a.m., — the day of the Pope's funeral in Rome. A memorial service takes place at the church on Thursday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m.

"I think generally there's a feeling of sadness for his passing, but thanksgiving for his life of service and dedication to the church," said Donna Hansen, a first grade teacher at St. Bernadette.

For 19-year-old Maria Oliveri, the death of the pope meant the loss of someone with whom she has felt a connection nearly since her birth.

Oliveri, a graduate of Nativity School and Pope Paul VI High in Fairfax, has lived in Rome with her family periodically throughout her life. She was baptized by the pope when she was six months old through a connection made by the priest at her church, St. Susanna in Rome. Oliveri was one of less than 50 babies whom the pope baptized in a ceremony at the Vatican, during yearly ritual. Although she was baptized by the pope, Oliveri said she didn't appreciate that event until she was much older.

"I didn't really understand the magnitude of what that meant," she said. Oliveri has returned to Rome periodically, and attended World Youth Day there in 2000 with some friends.

"Being there and seeing 2 million people from all over the world chase down this helicopter to get as close as they can to this man, made me see how influential he was," she said.

It also affected her faith personally.

"He really cared about the youth, and I think that's important, he really trusts us with the future of the church and the world, and it made me realize we have an important role to play in it."

As Oliveri watched the television broadcasts following the pope's death, she felt a connection with the pilgrims who filled St. Peter's Square in Vatican City to mourn.

"I wish I could be there so badly, just to say goodbye, to have that closure. For me, I'm just glad that other people are going and doing that for me," she said.

FAIRFAX STATION resident Chuck Genrich remembers an audience he had with the Pope in 1995. Genrich, who runs Special Event Management Services, said the first major job for his brand new company was overseeing transportation and logistics for the pope's trip to New York, New Jersey and Baltimore.

"It was a very, very exciting and providential blessing to be involved in the entire process," said Genrich, who is not Catholic. On the final day of the five-day trip, Genrich was invited to have an audience with the pope in the library of then-Cardinal O'Connor in New York. Along with eight others, the pope spoke with him for a moment or two.

"He asked how many children I had, and he blessed them, and laughed at the size of the family," said Genrich, who has four children.

"I was just so impressed with his humility, authenticity and his radiant sense of spirituality. He was in such robust great health at the time, even after five long days in New York City," he said.

Catholics remembered the way their leader had reached out to those of other faiths, encouraging them to see the similarities rather than the differences. More than anything, though, Kraus-Zadrozny said, she needed time to process that the leader of her faith was gone.

"He's an undeniable part of our lives," she said. "There will be a gaping hole there, even though they will choose someone else."