Churches across the region kept open their doors yesterday for mourners to join in worldwide prayer and sorrow upon the death of Pope John Paul II.
“This day, in the teeming rain, the young and old, rich and poor, brilliant and [those] like me, have come here to say, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said yesterday in appreciation of a godly life that shaped world events.
Cardinal McCarrick’s words came as he celebrated a noontime vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast, just hours before the pope died at 2:37 p.m. EST (9:37 p.m. in Rome).
Upon hearing the news about 2:50 p.m., Cardinal McCarrick, returned to church, as did other mourners who already had prayed that God either heal the fragile pope or deliver him from suffering.
The cardinal learned of John Paul’s death after Mass while in his room, where he had gone to eat a sandwich and begin to prepare for evening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush left the White House to attend the evening service after the president praised John Paul as “a hero for the ages.”
“I know your great affection for him, Mr. President, and I know he appreciated it,” Cardinal McCarrick said, welcoming Mr. Bush from the pulpit.
Cardinal McCarrick told reporters that when he heard the news, he prayed and thought about never again closing a Mass with the words “John Paul, our pope.”
“It’s different now,” the cardinal said. “We won’t have a John Paul anymore.”
Residents and political leaders throughout the area shared in the sorrow.
“If you had a chance to meet him, it was like the closest thing to God you’d get in life,” said Mike High, 42, a D.C. hotel worker who attended the evening Mass. “For half of my adult life, he’s been there on some level.”
Mr. High, born and raised Catholic, said the pope’s successor will have big shoes to fill.
“The question is, is he going to be able to lead the Catholic faith further into the 21st century? Is he going to be able to carry on with the same vigor, intensity and passion as Pope John Paul? Time will tell.”
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Catholic, said the pope will be remembered for reaching out to “the neediest among us.”
“The example he set is one we should all follow as we seek to live lives of meaning,” Mr. Williams said.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner called the pope “a force for peace in the world” and said his passing is “a time of great sadness.”
Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, said John Paul was “fantastic in his ability to reach out and touch people,” especially the youth of the world.
At the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, where a shroud was spread across the entrance, Cardinal Keeler said he will remind mourners that the pope looked forward to the day when he would go on to meet God.
“He thought about it often,” the cardinal said. “He spoke of it often as something that would come. … He saw it as a doorway.”
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski — who is Polish, as was the pope — said he was an inspiration. Miss Mikulski recalled the pope receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor and credited his actions and principles with helping tear down the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe.
Many of the region’s one million Roman Catholics will attend services today in remembrance of the pope.
Cardinal McCarrick was to celebrate Mass at 10 a.m. at the cathedral, at 1725 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Bishop Paul Loverde, leader of the Arlington Diocese, was to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington at 11 a.m.
Cardinal McCarrick was scheduled to leave this afternoon for Rome, where he will be among the 117 cardinals eligible to elect a successor to John Paul.
“His life and his death were our examples of how to live with dignity,” said Andrew Wakefield, 23, of Michigan, visiting the District as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
D.C. resident Paul Lobo, 29, said the pope inspired him as a boy growing up Catholic in India.
“It’s a very sad thing,” said Mr. Lobo, who is no longer a practicing Catholic but whose father and two uncles are priests in India. “This brings out so many memories, and you realize the influence he had over the entire world.”
Pat Butler, 58, also a D.C. resident, met the pope in 1979 when he visited the city.
“I had an opportunity to be within arm’s reach of him, and to be in the presence of such a peaceful aura. You felt a spiritual connectedness with him,” said Miss Butler, a Catholic. “He reached out to those of all denominations and faiths. He didn’t stay in the ivory tower with the kings and queens.”
Ginny Berte, 77, a widow from Kensington, said she and her husband saw the pope during his visit to the District.
“He really was a pope for all people,” she said. “He did practically everything before he studied to become a priest. He had a background to understand people of all cultures and religions.”
Christina Bellantoni and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.