It had been expected for months, imminent for days, but when the end came, the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday still caused a wave of grief around the world.
Masses over the weekend were offered with the special intention of remembering the pope as a man of the people, more widely traveled than , any other and one who served for 27 years..
The outside pillars of St. John’s Church in McLean were draped with black bunting Sunday afternoon prior to a prayer service on the Feast of Divine Mercy, a feast day declared by the pope in honor of a Polish nun, Maria Faustina, who was believed to have received a vision of Jesus in Poland.
“As soon as word went out that he passed away yesterday, people started coming in to pray,” said Mary Beth Riordan, keeper of The Word bookstore and gift shop in the church.
“A lot of people had been coming in Friday and Saturday, praying for him during services, but after he died they started filling the church,” she said. “There have been more people here than usual this weekend.”
Father Edward Hathaway said there was “standing room only” during Masses held Saturday and Sunday.
“He’s like the father of the church, but also to the world,” Fr. Hathaway said. “He’s such a strong moral leader, he was such a sign of hope. It’s sad to send him to the Lord, but there’s also a joy that’s just unexplainable. He finished his pilgrimage with victory.”
People had been buying up anything and everything related to the pope, or that he had written, Riordan said.
“He gave everything to the church and to his people,” Fr. Hathaway said. “When someone asked him the most difficult thing about his paralysis, he said the hardest thing was not being able to smile, because he was smiling on the inside all the time,” he said.
The reaction of world leaders, the religious and non-religious, Catholic and those of other faiths has been astonishing, he said.
“POPE JOHN PAUL, in the same way as Mother Theresa, was very much a living saint. He left us with such a strong legacy. I have no doubt he will become known as Pope John Paul the Great,” he said, a title that belongs to only two or three other popes in history for their acts of greatness, kindness and their impact on the world.
“I met the Pope with my husband on our honeymoon in Rome 25 years ago. There was an audience for newlyweds he held in the Vatican,” Riordan said. “He blessed our marriage and it worked. He lived such a great life.”
As cardinals from around the world gather in Rome to chose a new pope, their challenge is huge, but Fr. Hathaway believes the prayers and guidance of “one billion Catholics around the world will guide them to chose the right successor. It will be difficult to find someone like him again, but the person who is selected has to believe he has been selected by the Lord.”
Marcelle Brodeur, who attended Sunday’s crowded prayer hour at St. John’s, said she felt especially compelled to go to the church to celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy this year to contemplate the pope’s life and legacy.
“The future of the Catholic church depends on who they choose for the next pope,” she said. “There are a lot of cardinals who, unfortunately, are quite liberal, so you never know. Hopefully the church won’t change too much,” she said.
If the newly selected pope is similar to Pope John Paul II in following the rules and laws of the Catholic church, she doesn’t think the Catholic tradition will change much. “He was a very holy man,” she said. “He was very close to Christ even before he died.”
Joan Gobrecht came to McLean from Arlington to celebrate the feast day.
“I think the church and the cardinals are going to be guided by the Holy Spirit in selecting the new pope,” she said. “We will miss this pope greatly, but the church will be fine with whoever is elected. [John Paul] was a wonderful pope.”
One of the attributes given to Pope John Paul II was his connection to the youth of the world. He was often credited with bringing young people back to the Catholic faith at a time when more and more were leaving the religion of their parents behind.
Federica Burelli had met the pope twice, at ages 3 and 6 years old, and comes from a family that made their faith a big part of their life.
“My family has always made me realize that the pope was a very important person,” she said. “You can see that he had a big impact on young people, especially with the World Youth Days he organized.”
She feels that the greatest challenge for the next pope will be winning over the faithful who adored Pope John Paul II and are grieving his loss deeply.
“He’s been around for so long, some Catholics might have a hard time getting used to the new pope. He’ll have to prove himself trustworthy over time,” she said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of the Washington Diocese left for Rome on Saturday to attend the pope’s funeral, to be held Friday at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. He will be one of eleven American cardinals who will be part of the conclave of cardinals that will elect the new pope.
On Friday, Bishop Paul Loverde of the Arlington Diocese celebrated Mass for the ailing 84-year-old pontiff at St. Thomas Moore Cathedral and again on Saturday evening and Sunday morning after his death. Loverde, who had met with the Pope several times, said his legacy will be one of human kindness and a respect for life.
ACCORDING TO Soren Johnson, spokesman for the diocese, the Arlington Diocese's web site, www.arlingtondiocese.org is getting thousands of hits from people looking for information related to the pope's death. An on-line condolence book is available at the site and mourners can leave messages.