- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Area Catholics yesterday celebrated the life of Pope John Paul II and paid homage to a leader who many said was a “good example of how we should live our lives.”

Churches throughout the region led extended Sunday services as thousands packed the sanctuaries and, in some cases, spilled into church lobbies to pray for the pope, who died Saturday at the age of 84.

“He was a prince of peace,” said Michael Jackman, 36, a lawyer from Takoma Park and one of the nearly 1,300 who attended Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest. “He was the only pope we’ve known.”

Germaine Regis, 33, a parishioner at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, agreed. “He was a good man,” she said after Mass that more than 700 worshippers attended yesterday. “He was a good example of how we should live our lives.”

At the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde praised the pope for his dignity and decades of service.

“He proclaimed the message of human dignity and God’s love,” Bishop Loverde told hundreds who attended yesterday’s Mass. “He has called us to holiness.”

Bishop Loverde also remembered the pope as “vibrant,” even as his health began to decline in recent years.

“He taught us how to accept suffering and eventually how to die,” the bishop said. “He taught us how to accept suffering and not to be afraid. No illness, no infirmity can take away the beauty within.”

“Pope John Paul II has not so much gone away as he has gone ahead,” the bishop said.

Many who came to St. Thomas More were dressed in black. Some women wore black veils that covered their hair or face. One woman cried quietly as she stood looking at a photograph of the pope that was draped in black cloth as a symbol of mourning.

Renzo Garcia, 17, of Alexandria, said the pope touched his life when his father met the pontiff in Peru years ago. “He exemplified leadership,” the high school student said. “He taught us that we are all equals.”

In the District, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, celebrated the pontiff’s life during a special Mass at St. Matthew. The pope celebrated Mass at St. Matthew in October 1979.

“As we say farewell to the Holy Father, the best thing we can do is put hope in our hearts and in our lives,” the cardinal said. “If we do that, it would be the greatest tribute to him and the greatest gift from God.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, who is a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, were among the dignitaries who attended the Mass.

At midday, hundreds more attended a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.

Others stopped by the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Northeast, where visitors lined up to sign a book of condolences. The book will later be sent to the Vatican.

Many quietly prayed at the statue of Pope John Paul II that stands on the grounds of the center. Some visitors left flowers at the foot of the statue, while others placed rosary beads and a wooden cross in one of the statue’s hands.

“It’s very moving. It’s the right place to be today,” said Don Blake, 63, a U.S. State Department employee and retired metropolitan police officer who visited the center yesterday.

At St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, the Rev. Scott Woods said it was “appropriate” that the pope died on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy, which celebrates the visions of a young Polish nun.

“Divine mercy is a gift our great father has given to the church,” Father Woods said. “He was a man deeply connected to Christ. … He sought to preach the truth, without compromise, without watering it down, but in love.”

At Mother Seton Parish, Deacon Timothy Enright said there is such an outpouring of grief over the pope’s death because “he was just a dynamic, caring person who would reach out to anyone. We don’t have that many people in society like that, that have a magnetism to them that draws people to them.”

“He certainly led the church well in the last 26 years and tried very hard to bring about a coming together of the many Christian denominations, and also reached out to Jews and Muslims,” Deacon Enright said.

In Baltimore, thousands filled the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where Cardinal William H. Keeler reminisced about the pope.

“We hope in God, and we trust in God,” said Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore. “We give thanks now, wishing His great presence blessed the life of Pope John Paul II.”

Cardinal Keeler also spoke of the pope’s visit to Baltimore in October 1995, when he celebrated Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He said the pope’s visit invigorated the region’s faith community. “With the sign of the cross, he transformed that stadium into an outdoor cathedral,” he said.

Many at the service yesterday shared the experience. “I remember when he came here to Baltimore. It was a special day,” said J. Mac Kennedy, a 46-year-old insurance executive. “I’m sad that Pope John Paul is now gone … [but] the service brought back some good memories.”

• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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