Across the U.S., mourning transcends religion and politics

Praise: Bush remembers the head of the Catholic Church as `a champion of freedom.'

National Reaction

Pope John Paul Ii : 1920 - 2005

April 03, 2005|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Gwyneth K. Shaw | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Across the nation yesterday, people of all religions and views paused to remember Pope John Paul II, praising the memory of a pontiff who championed the poor while preaching the virtues of peace, life and tolerance.

"The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd; the world has lost a champion of human freedom; and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home," President Bush said in a brief statement from the White House, with first lady Laura Bush at his side.

"Pope John Paul II left the throne of St. Peter in the same way he ascended to it - as witness to the dignity of human life," said Bush, who has sought to tie himself closely to the pope by highlighting their common belief in a "culture of life."

The president ordered the flags at the White House and other federal buildings to be flown at half-staff until the pope is buried. He and the first lady attended an evening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, a few blocks from the White House.

"He was more than just the pope," Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, said during the service. "He was the pope who loved us, the pope who was our friend."

The pontiff enjoyed near-universal admiration and respect from political leaders, although he occasionally took positions opposing American presidents, including speaking out against both wars with Iraq and maintaining a long campaign against capital punishment. Yesterday, some said the world would remember the pontiff for his strong opposition to communism - many credit him with helping to bring about its downfall - and his activism on modern-day issues such as the fight against HIV/AIDS.

`Closer to ... peace'

As news of his death came midafternoon yesterday, congressional leaders were also quick to respond. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, said, "The Catholic Church has lost a great pope, and the world community has lost a great leader and friend. May God bless his memory."

Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said he joined his fellow Catholics and people everywhere in grieving the death of the pope.

"He was a devout and beloved spiritual leader for the church who inspired people of all faiths and brought us closer to the great goal of peace on Earth," Kennedy said.

"It is written in the book of Genesis, `Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age,"' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who is Catholic. "Pope John Paul II is with his Father now. We were blessed that he preached peace in this world for so long."

All over the country, people poured into churches - some just to light a candle and say a quick prayer, others to attend a Mass dedicated to the pope.

On her way into the service at St. Matthew's, Washington resident Ann Moody said she usually attends Sunday morning Mass but decided to go last night to remember the man who led her church for much of her active religious life.

"It's like losing a grandparent - it would be hard to imagine life without him," said Moody, 47. "He gave the Catholic faith a face, and it was a face and a heart that people responded to."

Despite his progressive view of his role, the pope maintained staunchly conservative positions, opposing abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, and stem-cell research. He also refused to modify the church's prohibition of artificial birth control and the ordination of women, which earned him criticism from those who hoped he might move the church in a more modern direction.

The pope did win praise for reaching out to other faiths during his tenure, becoming the first pontiff to enter a mosque and extending the Vatican's full diplomatic recognition to Israel.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America expressed "great sadness" at the pope's death, saying in a statement that Pope John Paul had made "historic and landmark contributions" to Catholic-Jewish relations that were "pioneering and invaluable.

"He was not just the leader of the Catholic church, he became a global figure in a way that transcended his leadership of one religion," while exercising "firm leadership within the church," said Dennis M. Doyle, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

"Whether they're Catholic or not, people feel bonded to this pope."

Without a leader

But it is Catholics who feel the loss of the pope most keenly. Until a new pontiff is selected, the church is literally without a leader.

In Hamtramck, Mich., a predominantly Polish enclave near Detroit, the Rev. Tomasz Sielicki announced the pope's death to a small crowd bent in prayer at St. Florian's Parish as the church's bells began tolling and workers began draping black crepe over yellow flags signifying the Vatican.

"Oh, when I heard the bells start, I just knew," said parishioner Pat Fedruk, 70, a lifelong Hamtramck resident who - like others - took personal pride in Pope John Paul as the first Polish pope.

When the church's pews filled for Mass an hour after the pope's death was announced, Sielicki told the somber crowd to find joy in the news.

We are all, on one hand, saddened by this news, but on the other hand we celebrate the greatest part of our faith - the resurrection of Jesus Christ," Sielicki said. "What should prevail in our feelings, our thoughts and our prayers is almost joyous pride that we have witnessed in our lives this great man."

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson in Hamtramck, Mich., contributed to this article.

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