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Boston priests share experience of mourners, papal funeral

By Donis Tracy
Posted: 4/15/2005

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VATICAN CITY —  Father William Palardy, a Boston priest on sabbatical in Rome since January will  never forget where he was when Pope John Paul II passed away — he was praying a rosary at St. Peter’s Square.

According to Father Palardy, crowds of people had “prayerfully” and “reverently” begun to gather in St. Peter’s Square April 1, following the announcement that the Holy Father was nearing death.  In order to accommodate the growing crowds, Vatican officials announced that St. Peter’s Square would remain open to allow pilgrims to pray for the pontiff.

“I was amazed at the number of young people” who spent the night in prayer, anxiously glancing at the windows of Pope John Paul II’s residence for any indication of the Holy Father’s condition, he said.

Immediately after finishing a rosary on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, the sign came.

A third light was turned on at the papal residence, signaling the death of the Holy Father.  Yet, according to Father Palardy, few of those present in St. Peter’s Square knew what that light meant.  Unsure of what to do, the people gathered began to pray the Hail Mary more fervently.

Finally, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome, told those gathered that Pope John Paul II had died.

“A still silence overtook the crowd,” Father Palardy recalled.  “And as news of the Holy Father’s death spread, people poured into the square.”

Father Palardy said he will cherish the events of the week following the pontiff’s death.  With a voice filled with awe, he described this week as “phenomenal.”

But he was not the only Boston priest to witness the events at Vatican City this past week.

Father John Sullivan, pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation parish in Melrose, chanced to be in Rome on vacation the week of the pope’s funeral — a vacation he had planned for months.

“The timing was pretty providential,” asserted Father Sullivan.

Arriving less than 24 hours before the funeral Mass, he considers himself “privileged” to have been able to attend the Mass.

Visibly moved, Father Sullivan said, “This has been a fitting tribute to John Paul II who was a fellow pilgrim with us on the journey of faith.”

Another Boston priest, Father Stephen Donohoe, director of pastoral ministries at St. John’s Seminary, also attended the pontiff’s funeral Mass.

As soon a he got news of the Holy Father’s death, ”I felt moved to go,” he said.

Without a clear idea of how to get there or where to stay once in Rome, Father Donohoe began searching for flights to Rome, ultimately arriving two days before the papal funeral Mass.

“Everything just fell into place,” he said.

“This has been an awesome, grace-filled experience,” he continued, noting that he was even able to sit close to the front at the funeral Mass.

“Mere words will never do my experience justice,” he admitted with a shake of his head.  “I have never heard of nor lived through anything of this magnitude.”