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April 8, 2005

Notes from Rome

A Priest friend in Rome writes:

There are no words to adequately describe the funeral Mass of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. The pictures and images were carried live around the world – and will probably be played over and over – but there is something to be said for the feeling of being present in that space and sensing the palpable grief of the crowd that video just cannot express. Rather than trying to narrate such an indescribable event, allow me to share some moments and impressions that stood out for me as capturing the moment with clarity and poignancy.

“Santo Subito!”

I was sitting behind the rows of bishops where I had a view of the entire Square. The moment Cardinal Ratzinger finished the homily, the crowd burst into applause and suddenly 30 or so large banners and sighs were unfurled in the crowd, all saying the same thing: Santo Subito! “A Saint – right now!” The signs were spread out all through the Square and down the street. They disappeared for the Creed, but appeared again after Communion – this time accompanied by a loud chant: Giovanni Paolo – Santo!! To see those dozens of banners and to hear that chant! It gave me chills, and I started noticing the Archbishops and Bishops fidgeting, nervously looking at the College of Cardinals (particularly at Cardinal Ratzinger) and whispering to each other. One Italian bishop near me turned to another and said simply: Will he do it?

It was common in the first Millennium of the Church’s history to proclaim saints by public acclamation. It hasn’t been done in centuries, but it is part of the tradition. Today I witnessed a true acclamation. Those 4 million people wanted John Paul declared a saint, and they wanted it now. Ratzinger paused for a while and let the crowd have its moment and voice its will. He then pushed on with the funeral rites, out of deference to prudence I am sure. The next pope will probably open John Paul’s cause for canonization almost immediately and allow the scrutiny to run its proper course. I don’t think the ultimate outcome is at all in doubt – John Paul will be declared a saint. But I could not help but wonder what would have happened today if prudence gave way to boldness. As Cardinal Dean, Ratzinger could have polled the College for their opinion. He could have asked the nearly 600 assembles bishops for their assent. He could have made the proclamation and just asked the next pope to confirm the universal acclamation of the Church. Santo Subito! Though this did not happen, Cardinal Ratzinger did however make his own views on the matter very clear. In the homily, he made reference to the Pope “standing at the window of the Father’s house, greeting us and blessing us.” For the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this is a huge statement! He told us where to look for our beloved John Paul: in the House of the Father, the dwelling of the saints.

Prayer of the Eastern Church

After Communion, Cardinal Ruini, the Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, led the Church of Rome in Latin litanies and prayers for the repose of the pope’s soul. Immediately after that, the Patriarchs of the Eastern Oriental Churches gathered around the coffin and chanted the prayers for the dead in Greek. The Greeks, it turns out, know how to mourn. The chants for the dead can only be deceived as wails of pain, heartrending yet hauntingly beautiful – even of you don’t understand a word of Greek. It was at that moment that the whole feeling of the crowd changed. From then on, the crowd of 4 million people was silent. This ancient expression of grief and hope in God’s power to save even from death opened up a cathartic moment for the people present in the Square. That is when many began to cry. That is when they started to say farewell. From that moment until the end of the Mass, the “spectacle” disappeared and was replaced with an intimacy that was always a hallmark of John Paul’s presence. The priest next to me was looking out at the crowd, absorbing the tremendous waves of emotion that were pulsing up towards us. As he looked out, he spoke, probably not even realizing that he was saying the words out loud: “You can just feel his absence. They certainly now know that he has gone.” By that time, the Patriarchs had finished, and Cardinal Ratzinger began the Commendation of the Dead. It was time to say good bye.

The Last Farewell

As the Mass ended and the Cardinals processed into the Basilica for the burial, the pall bearers lifted the casket off the ground and carried it to the front doors of the basilica. There, they turned around and tipped the foot down so the body of John Paul could face the crowd one last time. One is not accustomed to seeing bishops cry, but at that moment they all did. As I wiped away my own tears, I thought of the appropriateness of that simple gesture of facing him out towards the crowd one last time. His was the window on the world. For twenty six years he looked out on the crowd like Jesus in the Gospels. Moved with pity, he spoke to them of God’s love, of the power of the truth, of the call to holiness and virtue. As his body “looked out” this final time, it saw the largest gathering of world leaders in history. It saw nearly 4 million people of every race, culture, nation, and way of life gathered in peace, in faith, and in charity. Even in death, John Paul the Great continues to unite people and promote peace. And that is not a bad sight to look out upon at all

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at April 8, 2005 6:51 AM

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Thank you. Reading this was great! Orly

Posted by: Orly at April 8, 2005 9:05 AM

The Dignity of Peace John Paul the Great exemplified, described in these words, is the heartfelt acclamation of millions.

Posted by: Beth at April 8, 2005 9:21 AM

i was so proud about the pope .

Posted by: joseph burbol at April 8, 2005 9:48 AM

Everytime I read more info about the Pope's life & now his funeral, it leaves me 'speechless'& amazed! Truly he was the chosen one to fulfill the prophecy of our Beloved Blessed Mother. What a blessed human being he was!

Posted by: Adele at April 8, 2005 10:25 AM

Pope John Paul II was truly our Pope, the People's Pope, May He Rest in Peace.

Posted by: Theresa at April 8, 2005 12:16 PM

I was almost as if his death was to show us how to suffer in grace and to really think about about the importance of faith, belief in Christ, and reaching out to people of other religious beliefs.

Posted by: Mary Menard at April 8, 2005 12:29 PM

Go With God. He traveled the world to show that Catholics were united and he met with all other faiths in a show of unity. A humble man who lived his life in Christ and showed devotion to Mary. He will be missed by many and will be hard to follow.

Posted by: Mike Mac at April 8, 2005 12:39 PM

Thank You for sharing this with us. I think all of us at home really wanted to be there. Pope John Paul will always be loved and missed by all of us. Rest in peace in your Fathers arms Holy Father.

Posted by: alicia wilhite at April 8, 2005 12:47 PM

Thank you for sharing this with us. This article is so well written. It touched me so to see his casket turned around one last time to face the crowd, face all the people he loved deerly and given us the last chance to say goodbye to him.

I love you and I miss you, Pope.

Posted by: amy at April 8, 2005 1:01 PM

I have lived through the reigns of 5 Popes; PiusXII through John Paul II, and this man's death has touched me more deeply than any of the others, though the death of John the XXIII was exceptionally sad, as he had tremendous devotion and humor. It is my fervent desire that the Church will move forward in all that John Paul II instituted, and that his legacy of world peace will catch fire, and ignite the universe.

Posted by: Gramto10 at April 8, 2005 1:12 PM

There is only one man on earth that can accomplish in his death the same that he has completed in his life. Pope John Paul II was that man. The principles he stood for were self-evident at his funeral. John Paul II, Neikisha loves you. My eighteen years of life are much more memorable because of you. "Ora Pro Nobis".

Posted by: Neikisha Charles at April 8, 2005 2:04 PM

Thanks to the nation of Poland for his son John Paul II

Posted by: Karol at April 8, 2005 2:33 PM

I am not a Catholic, but I do believe that Pope John Paul II was a holy man and is sitting in Heaven with the Father. There is one thing that we all have in common - we are born, we live and we die. The dates between birth and death exemplifies one's life, i.e. the "dash". The Pope's "dash" was the holy life that he lived and the influence he had on all with whom he met. Rest in Peace, Pope Paul!

Posted by: Barbara at April 8, 2005 3:55 PM

When Arafat died his followers came to bury him expressing their continued hatred. They fired thousands and thousands of bullets into the heavens to mourn their loss.

When Pope John Paul died his followers, both Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of many faiths brought only their prayers. Over 4 million people came to Rome and not a single shot was fired.

Perhaps the people of the Middle East will take a lesson from this and see that peace has so much more to offer their lives than the exhaustion of hatred that some of their leaders continue to teach their children.

Posted by: Mike at April 8, 2005 4:04 PM

What a beautiful, and beautifully written, memorial to our dear John Paul II! The dignity of his death compared very favorably with his teaching by example during his life. Truly he showed us how to live AND die.

Posted by: Eileen at April 8, 2005 4:07 PM

thank you for sharing.

Posted by: john at April 8, 2005 4:38 PM

iam not a catholic, i have never seen love more portrayed. pope johnii. was a holy man, i will miss him. farewell holy warrior, your life was an example of love for all mankind.

Posted by: joseph buffington at April 8, 2005 4:38 PM

You made the world a better place. Now, you may rest.

Posted by: Maryanne at April 8, 2005 4:50 PM

we miss you very macht and you wahtch over us good be wiht you allways.

Posted by: tilli at April 8, 2005 5:02 PM

Thank you so very much for your thoughts. :)

Posted by: Linda at April 8, 2005 5:25 PM

John Paul ll has passed from one world to another.
He sits with he predsessors , and with Christ and Mother Mary. He is there because our Holy Father in heaven is pleased with him. He may be gone from this world, but he continues to live with Christ in our hearts. Rest in peace you have our Holy Mother Mary to comfort you.

Posted by: SALVATORE M. LOPORCHIO at April 8, 2005 5:44 PM

Today I am proud to be both Catholic and Polish!!

John Paul II is indeed Saint John Paul II !!!

Posted by: Mary at April 8, 2005 7:01 PM

There are no words to express the joy his life and death has given a world so lost. Calmness. He is a testament that each person can learn from. The most amazing thing is you don't have to look far for the message. Look at yourselves in the mirror and the beauty looking back at you was what John Paul II wanted all to see. I'm not Catholic or Polish but I know a gift when I see it.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 8, 2005 7:24 PM

I am happy for Pope John PaulII... now he is re-united with our Father, who he faithfully served and obediently followed all those years. He serves as spiritual inspiration to me. May his message of love, peace and unity burn in our hearts. I pray with all my brothers and sisters around the world in mourbing of his death and in celebration of the life and ideals he lived.

Posted by: pinoy catholic at April 8, 2005 7:44 PM

Thank you for this moving message. Since I don't get TV reception in my area, I had to rely on the radio and internet for news of the funeral. Your message was the best!

I am neither Catholic nor Polish but I loved this man. I am so greatful for his presence on earth.

Posted by: Christa at April 8, 2005 7:52 PM


Posted by: DAN at April 8, 2005 7:54 PM


Posted by: dolores goode at April 8, 2005 9:00 PM

I simply want to say thank you to a holy man for his prayers for humanity. He was such a gift to us and I am thankful. May we learn at the most distant level...his message of peace...AMEN

Posted by: pam and steve at April 8, 2005 9:31 PM

We should all strive to be like our Lord's Son Pope John Paul II, even if only 1%. Thank you so much for your window on these events. The picture your words evoked brought me to tears. We should all pray for peace!

Posted by: Mary Anne at April 8, 2005 10:00 PM

Thank you Dearest Father, Son & Spirit for
affording us John Paul II. He, indeed, has
touched my being, uplifted me, and placed
me on a sure & straight path. Santo Subito!
Alexandra Trzcinski

Posted by: alexandra trzcinski at April 8, 2005 10:05 PM

Thank you so much for sharing this touching article. I thank the country of Poland for giving us Pope John Paul II.

Posted by: jeanne at April 8, 2005 10:46 PM


Posted by: pdbassy at April 8, 2005 11:36 PM

First off thank you Father Jeff, For the blogs for the people who are not Catholics, and still believe that the Pope is truly a Vicor of Paul and is truly a SAINT IN ALL EYES.
It must be Steven your friend who is telling us how spiritual, and wonderfull this Pope truley is.
Did he not look so wonderfull with great honer to Die with dignity, to suffer as the Lord did!You have done great with this Blog to alow Bloggers to be in history and elaberate on this awsome time as the Pope sits at the Holy Land of Eternal Life with Jesus ,and all his fellow Brothers,and sisters,and his mom and dad. Did you know this Blog was so admired? I did'nt! Im proud to know you, and to be apart of this history.Im Proud to have you in our Path as this history is a part that is in my Family Life. Thank you and God Bless you for your great knowlage , and Love of us all. Your Mass today was very Powerfull! Thanks

Posted by: Lizz at April 8, 2005 11:42 PM

thank you for the article it was great

Posted by: Deacon Dan at April 9, 2005 4:58 AM

This article brought back so many memories... twenty years ago, while traveling with the Army, I had a stopover in Rome. The next morning, Maundy Thursday I think, I stepped outside to find the street bustling - throngs of people migrating toward Vatican City. I followed the crowd into Saint Peter's Square, where thousands were gathered before the Cathedral. Pope John Paul, II appeared and celebrated mass in several languages. What I cannot adequately describe is the overwhelming sense of faith in that Square, faith one could almost reach out and touch, it was so real. After mass the Pope rode through the crowd on a golf cart, blessing those assembled. The experience of being in his presence had a profound impact on me. I'd often pondered writing him, to thank him for his dedication and his positive impact - both on individuals and on the world. I let that chance escape me... but I'm sure God will convey the message.

Posted by: Joseph at April 9, 2005 5:45 AM

John Paul II, from heaven, has given us an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the world. It was evident at his funeral, but also in the lives of so many who couldn't be there but who share his faith. At the Catholic high school where I teach we had a mass yesterday to honor the pope. It was unlike any mass we have ever had in it's reverence and emotion. The high school students were deeply touched, often tearful. Many said, "Why can't every mass be like that?" To them I said, "Bring this emotion, this intensity, to every Mass, as JP II would have you do, and every mass will be like this."

Posted by: irene woodard at April 9, 2005 6:20 AM

He was truly an Apostle of Christ...

Posted by: Lynn Ferrara at April 9, 2005 7:12 AM

Pope John-Paul II the great,a holy man, a saint, who promoted peace and love in this world, loved by billions across our planet young and old,he will be missed by all but never forgotten,
God bless Poland the country of your birth.
Rest in peace in heaven in God's arms among the saints

Posted by: Joe B at April 9, 2005 9:08 AM

Our Holy Father Pope John Paul ll, is truly a Saint. As we all have just witnessed, we can have peace on earth as. This past week we saw that as the millions gatherd to say good-bye, with all the different races, and different faith's this is possable. I will be going to WYD 2005 with two of my daughter's and 25 other youth's from St. Clares, we will truly miss JPll at this event, but know that he will be there looking down upon us form his new window. I pray that we will be able to attend the services when our beloved Holy Father is named for the world, Santo John Paul ll the Great. God Bless and God Peace.

Posted by: Bola at April 9, 2005 10:09 AM

I was moved to tears at the moment when the crowd's applause at the end seemed to lift the Pope's soul to God's hands and to heaven.
And I also was moved by the beautiful simple poignancy of the Mass.

Posted by: Anne at April 9, 2005 10:24 AM

thank you for this - it was wonderful.

Posted by: ~m2~ at April 9, 2005 11:25 AM

I was very impressed on how the coffin of our most beloved Pope was laid simply on the ground. He was a simple person throughout his life. Thank you for sharing how the cardinals wept since we couldn't see that on t.v. Tears rolled down my face as I saw the coffin being turned around so our Pope could take a last look at us. I learned a lot from your article. I hope the next Pope will be as wonderful as John Paul II. Having lost my mother only four months ago and now our Pope, I would really like someone I can look up to in this world, admire, and guide me.

Posted by: Magdalena at April 9, 2005 1:26 PM

We have been so blessed by Our Holy Father's reign (wasn't he magnificent?) - whether Catholic or non-Catholic, Christian, Jew, Muslim or other, so much of the world was touched by his message of love and the dignity of all living persons. We have lived in a century of saints! Mother Theresa, St Faustina, St Maximilian Kolbe, Sister Lucia and now St. John Paul the Great. The themes of all of their lives expressed the great love God has for all of us and they LIVED that love. How much they have loved us--how much John Paul loved us and loves us still. Blessed be God for sending the world such a courageous and loving shepherd.

Posted by: Adele at April 9, 2005 2:57 PM

My special and sicere thanks to Pope John Paul for all your wonderful gifts and blessings. May you rest in peace.

Posted by: Katrina at April 9, 2005 5:18 PM

Thank you for sharing your personal experience the day of the funeral with us. I am so glad that this great man was around during my lifetime. Although he has physically left us, I feel that through his passing on to heaven we all can feel even closer to him, knowing that he will now hear our prayers and watch over all of us. He was truly our saint on earth and hopefully soon our saint in heaven.

Posted by: Dottie at April 10, 2005 11:11 AM

I am not a catholic, but I had great respect
for the Pope. He is indeed a Saint. I shall miss
him endlessly.

Posted by: George Babcock at April 10, 2005 6:28 PM

Christianity has never been this exposed to the rest of the world for a whole long week. The life & death of Pope John Paul II has made this happened and it also brought unity of strange bed fellow in world politics together in Love. Even in death, he is still preaching what he devoted 26 years into.
Thanks Pope John Paul II for advertising God, rest in perfect peace.

Posted by: Ebun odeniyi at April 10, 2005 11:08 PM

Thank you for this article. I just want to share that I have been Catholic all my life, and have always, always admired Pope John Paul II, but while watching his funeral I experienced something that has changed my life forever. During the funeral, I was literally possessed by the Holy Spirit for the first time in my life. I have never, ever experienced such love and peace in all my life. Thank you, John Paul II, for your example, and for your intercession in my being born again. I'll see you in Heaven, God willing!

Posted by: Jennifer at April 15, 2005 8:32 PM

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