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BOSTON — Catholics crowded the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the Mass that was celebrated in memory of Pope John Paul II on April 3, Divine Mercy Sunday, a day after the pope died.
In his homily, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley described the Holy Father as “a poet, a philosopher, an athlete, a linguist, a mystic, a man with deep loyalties and lasting friendships, a priest, who laid down his life for his flock.”
“He was a man of deep faith,” he added. “His message was always one of hope, as he told the people of Poland, the people of the world, ‘Do not be afraid.’ But his message was also a challenge to inspire to a freedom based on truth and our dignity as human beings, made in the image and likeness of God.”
Pope John Paul II spoke out against oppressive governments and “contributed mightily to the fall of communism in the world.” He also reached out to non-Catholics and worked to promote better understanding between Catholics and Jews, the archbishop said.
“Some people found his moral teachings too strict. For John Paul he was simply announcing the Good News of God’s mercy,” he said. “John Paul knew that our modern society has been left without a moral compass, then he would lovingly remind us of the roadmap of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.”
“John Paul II’s life of sacrifice, of service, of fidelity is a call to all of us to follow Jesus Christ not from a safe distance but up close,” he added. “Today, we come together to celebrate the life of a great pope, a man with a shepherd’s heart. We are surrounded by the symbols of Easter and the resurrection that betoken our faith, that life is changed, not ended.”
After the Mass Stephanie Podewell, a Catholic of Polish descent sat on a bench inside the entryway of the cathedral, twisting the silver chain of an amber necklace, as she recalled her connection to Pope John Paul II. The necklace was given to her by her mother as a graduation present last May, and the amber is from Poland, said Podewell, an alumna of Boston University who now lives in Somerville. Her mother has had one just like it as long as she can remember.
“I wore it yesterday, and I plan to wear it for the next eight days,” she said, referring to the time of mourning. “It’s a connection to my mother and my family and my heritage, all at the same time.”
Podewell, who was dressed in all black, said the Mass was the closest she could come to a funeral for the pope.
“I’ve always felt a very strong connection to the pope,” she said, describing herself as a Polish-American Catholic. Podewell’s great-grandparents immigrated to the United States. Her grandmother has met the pope twice.
“I have always grown up with the pope almost being a part of my family,” she said. “He has done so much for Poland — spiritually and politically.”
Others who came to the Mass also felt a connection to the Polish pope, but people do not need to be Polish to grieve the loss of Pope John Paul II. The crowd filled the cathedral on Divine Mercy Sunday, a devotion that the pope himself declared. After the Mass, many expressed disbelief that the only pope they had ever known was gone. Still others expressed a desire to be in Rome.
John and Dorine O’Gorman spent April 2 close to their television, waiting for word of the pope’s condition.
“We wanted to be close to him, and that’s the only way we knew how,” Dorine said. “We wanted to be there in Rome.”
Both prayed the Divine Mercy novena this week in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday. They had already planned to attend the Mass at the cathedral before they knew it would also be dedicated to the pope.
Dorine said she arrived at the cathedral three hours before the Mass and also went to a Mass celebrated for the pope at her parish, St. John the Evangelist in Winthrop, on April 2.
“Our hearts were pretty heavy,” she said.
Marie Costa, a parishioner at St. John Chrysostom Parish in West Roxbury, said although it was “a sad day for me and the whole world,” the Mass had an air of celebration.
“John Paul was just for everyone. He loved us all — rich and poor,” she said.
Costa had just finished radiation treatment for breast cancer in 1979 when she waited all day in the rain for Pope John Paul II to celebrate a Mass on Boston Common.
“I’m still here. I think he blessed me,” she said.
Elba Castro, who moved to Boston in July, saw Pope John Paul II two times in her life. The first was in El Salvador in 1996 — two days after she moved to the country. He came to talk to the people as he often did in the many travels during his papacy.
“He really cared about the people,” she said.
Castro said she is nervous about the next pope and hopes that he will be as traditional as Pope John Paul II, continuing to speak out about important issues such as abortion.
Last July Castro went to see the pope celebrate a Mass at the Vatican. She said she was glad to have seen him that last time. She said she was surprised at the news of his death, even though it was expected.
“It was a shock to me,” she said.