Worshipers pack cathedral for memorial Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II - Catholic Courier

Worshipers pack cathedral for memorial Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II

ROCHESTER — If sheer numbers are any indication, the love and respect for Pope John Paul II was immense at Sacred Heart Cathedral on April 3.

Scores of people jammed the cathedral for the Sunday-evening April 3 Mass, which had been scheduled only two days earlier. Doug Mandelaro, diocesan director of communications, said the event was first announced on April 1 as a prayer service when the pope’s medical condition became grave. It evolved into a memorial Mass after his death was announced the next day.

“On two days’ notice, this is incredible,” Mandelaro said of the crowd.

Robert Stevenson, a Sacred Heart Cathedral usher who helped direct parking that night, said the congregation likely topped 1,000 and was the largest to occupy the renovated cathedral since it reopened earlier this year.

“Some folks said they were from Hornell and had been driving around for an hour looking for the cathedral,” Stevenson said.

Jackie Roets, a parishioner of Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece, felt that Sacred Heart was the most fitting place for her to observe the pope’s passing.

“I just wanted to show my love for him and celebrate his life, here in the cathedral,” she said, adding that many cathedrals around the world were likely drawing similar crowds: “I think we all feel the same sorrow.”

Bishop Clark, who presided at the Mass, said the gathering did not go unnoticed by the pope even in death. “I expect that he delights in our presence tonight,” he remarked to the congregation.

Given the pope’s well-known affinity for young people, it wasn’t surprising to see a high volume of teens and young adults on hand. Stevenson also noted that the gathering likely contained “a fair amount of non-Catholics who came out of respect.” Such was true of Rochester’s Victor Abarca, a Baptist.

“I came for the man, not the faith,” Abarca said. “I wish we all who are called Christians could do what he did.”

Abarca and Roets were among the many people who lingered after Mass to kneel and pray before a framed photograph of Pope John Paul at the base of the cathedral altar. “He was just such a loving and warm person; he cared about all of us. I’m sure he is in heaven now,” Roets said.

On this evening, the Gospel reading by Deacon John Brasley — Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes — seemed especially profound, addressing those who mourn, such as the people at Mass; the peacemakers and those who seek righteousness, which would surely apply to Pope John Paul; and the underprivileged, whose collective cause he championed throughout his papacy.

Stevenson said the integrity embodied by John Paul II is not shared by all significant public figures. With many, he said “their convictions change by the hour,.” whereas the pope “never changed.”

During his homily, Bishop Clark members of the congregation to recall their most vivid memory of Pope John Paul. In his own reflections, the bishop recalled being in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on the night that John Paul II was elected pope; the “awesome experience” of private papal audiences that caused the bishop’s hands to shake; and the pontiff’s desire to connect with the public despite his numerous ailments, right up until a few days before he died.

“The grace and dignity with which he embraced his failing health — in all circumstances, he pushed himself to the limit,” Bishop Clark said.

Along with the cathedral’s laudatory atmosphere, Roets felt that media coverage of Pope John Paul since his death has been overwhelmingly positive as well.

“There was not one unkind word about him. I don’t think you could have one if you tried,” she stated.

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