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    Pope Remembered

    By: Courier Staff Writer

          St. Peter’s Square in Rome has been filled with millions of pilgrims from all over the world this week celebrating the life’s work of Pope John Paul II who died last Saturday in his Vatican apartment following a rapid decline in health.
          When the announcement of his death was made, immediate reaction of the people holding vigil outside was applause, an Italian tradition when someone dies. His health had been failing for weeks following a bout of flu that led to breathing problems for the Pontiff best known for bringing peace to the world.
          A few weeks ago, after leaving the hospital, his brief recovery was punctuated with his appearance at the Vatican where he could be seen by worshippers twice a week. His trembling voice and obvious weakened state of health were clear to the world. Some children standing with him released doves into the air, but several of the birds flew back inside the window. The Pope laughed, but to some it symbolically signaled his demise.
          Within days, another infection soon put him back into the hospital but he was soon released though still very ill. By last Friday morning his fate was evident when a Vatican spokesperson choked back tears when announcing his weakening condition. His organs slowly failed as he slipped in and out of consciousness.
          LA Cardinal Roger M. Mahony flew back from vacation to hold a special mass at Los Angeles Lady of Angels Cathedral.
          As the Pope hovered on the edge of life, thousands outside his Vatican apartment prayed, said the Rosary and sang songs. At one point, they were asked to keep the volume down because the Pope was listening to them rather than getting the sleep he needed. But, when the bells rang out it was clear, the Pope was dead.
          President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, appeared on television shortly after the death was announced. They seemed visibly shaken. “We will always remember the humble, wise and fearless priest who became one of history’s great moral leaders,” Bush said in his speech. “We are grateful to God for sending such a man.”
          The Bushes, along with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, led the American delegation attending the funeral.
          John Paul had been Pope for 28 years and to many Catholics was the only one they had ever known. Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in 1920 in Poland, he began studying for the priesthood in secret at the Krakow seminary in 1942 and was ordained in 1946.
          In 1978, at the age of 58, Cardinal Wohtyla became the first Polish Pope in 455 years, a man of the people who was destined to change the world. However, he wasn’t the first choice for Pope to replace Cardinal Alveno Luciani who died a few weeks after being named as the cardinals were deadlocked on two other Italian contenders.
          Shortly after becoming Pope he visited his native Poland and encouraged the people to seek freedom from communist oppression. The Pope inspired history to change in Poland and ultimately the Soviet Union. Only after the fall of communism in western Europe did it become clear the pivotal role this Pope played on the world stage in ushering in freedom. In 1989, he was a central figure who hastened the demise of communism. It was then that the seeds of freedom planted 10 years earlier in his trip to Poland took hold and spread.
          He grew up among Jews in Poland and as a boy attended a synagogue with neighborhood friends. As Pope, he reached out tirelessly to other faiths, becoming the first Pope to set foot in a synagogue in 1986 as well as a mosque, in Damascus in 2001 and surprised the world in 2000 when he prayed to God for forgiveness for past sins committed against Jews in the name of the Roman Catholic Church.
          This Pope found an unexpected ally in President Ronald Reagan in their mutual quest for world freedom. The two had more in common than their goals. In 1981, within weeks of each other, they were both targets of would-be assassins.
          In Vatican Square, just after blessing a little girl in the crowd, the Pope was shot several times in the stomach by a Turkish hired gunman just as he bent to kiss a portrait of the Virgin Mary, the 9mm gun shot out and hundreds of pigeons darted to the sky. Panic erupted in the square and the entire world felt a profound sense of shock.
          John Paul was rushed to the nearby hospital uttering faint prayers along the way. He lost consciousness when he arrived and was rushed into the operating room for a five-hour surgery where he was stabilized. The bullets miracalessly missed all vital organs, major arteries and nerves. John Paul credits the Virgin Mary for saving his life. “It was the hand of man who shot the gun,” the pope said, “but the bullet was guide by the Virgin Mary.” One of the bullets taken from him was placed upon the crown of a statue of Mary at the Vatican.
          The CIA investigations were inclusive, but many believed the Soviets were behind the attempt on his life for being outspoken against communism. The Pope didn’t care. He said: “It was the devil who was conspiring and the devil has a thousand ways.” Two years after he was shot, he visited the assassin in prison and forgave him. He said he could not heal until he forgave.They prayed together.
          While John Paul preached descent to the secular and political world, many have been disturbed by what seems to be his unyielding conservative attitudes towards social issues in the church. His opposition to women in the priesthood, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality was felt to be behind the times and alienated a number of Catholics.
          Although he was often criticized on his views on sex, he ordered the draping be removed from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpieces restoring the figures to their original nudity.
          At the age of 74, John Paul was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a neurological disorder that causes tremors. It was a divestating blow to a Pope who wanted to remain active, but he dealt with it through his faith and a robust sense of humor.
          It was revealed in the Pontif’s Will that he owned no personal property. His secretary and the Chief Rabbi of Rome are the only ones to be left anything. He wanted to be buried in Poland, which is not going to happen. His body will be laid to rest at the Vatican. He left instructions for his journals to be burned. It was also revealed he wanted to retire in 2000 and make way for a younger man.
          After today’s funeral there will be an official morning for nine days. A new Pope will be selected by the College ofCardinals in a secret Conclave beginning April 18.

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