Saturday, April 02, 2005
Area Catholics pray for the pope
As Pope John Paul II's health failed rapidly on Friday, Roman Catholics and other Christians in the Roanoke and New River valleys offered their prayers and recalled the wide-reaching effects of his tenure.
Many spoke in the past tense, aware that by this morning, the pope may already be gone.
"I think he will certainly be remembered for being the face of the church to the world," said Monsignor Thomas Miller of St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Roanoke. "His ability to speak so many languages, his extensive travels - he reached out to people. Not just Catholic people, but people all over the world."
During a week when many clergy were on vacation and churches were empty following the rush of Easter, parishioners trickled in to houses of worship Friday for comfort.
Julie Paulitzky of Callaway was one of several who came to the chapel in St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church in Roanoke on Friday afternoon.
"I'm going to say the rosary; that's a good thing for me to do," she said.
Maronite Catholics trace their roots to Lebanon but later formed ties with Roman Catholicism. They recognize the authority of the pope.
Clark McNabb, 17, of Roanoke County emerged from the chapel clearly distressed and wearing a cross necklace blessed by the pope. He called the pope "one of the most holy men on the planet."
The Rev. Rodolph Wakim, priest of the Northwest Roanoke church, likened the Catholics' experience to losing a family member.
"If your father is sick, the whole family gets together," he said. Though in this case, he added, "It's not a small family; it's over a billion."
At Radford University, several members of Catholic Campus Ministries watched the story unfold on the news and prayed inside the ministry's house near the campus.
Rick Robers, the lay minister on campus, said the pope would surely be a major topic of discussion and prayer at a retreat already planned for this weekend. While Robers said he would like to have been on campus to help support grieving students should the pope die, he hoped the retreat will offer some members a chance for additional fellowship during the difficult time.
"It will be good at least that our core group will be together this weekend," Robers said.
Roanoke religious leaders said Friday that they believe this pope will be remembered most for his travels and visibility as well as his efforts to unify people of many religions.
"He has certainly traveled to more countries and has appeared to more people than probably any other religious leader," said the Rev. Canon Marvin Gardner of St. Thomas of Canterbury Anglican Catholic Church.
Unlike Roman Catholics, Anglican Catholics don't recognize the primacy of the pope. The Anglican Catholic Church split from the Episcopal Church in the late 1970s.
Gardner added that the pope has "extended a graciousness" to other religions while at the same time remaining clear on the distinctions and differences.
"He's had that rare ability to retain very clear boundaries while opening the lines of communication and friendship," Gardner said.
The Rev. Rene Castillo of St. Gerard's Catholic Church in Roanoke, who saw Pope John Paul II on two occasions in the Philippines, said the pontiff brought an international flavor to the church by appointing cardinals of many nationalities.
"There used to be mostly Italian cardinals," he said. "Now there are so many cardinals from other nations, Africa, Asia, Latin America, so it is probably more universal."
For Ed Lynch, associate professor of political science at Hollins University and author of two books about Roman Catholicism, the pope's ability to survive Nazism and communism in his native Poland is awe-inspiring.
"This is a man who saw the absolute worst that the 20th century had to offer," he said.
As the 84-year-old pontiff, the third longest-serving pope in history, was reported to be almost certainly on his deathbed Friday, one scene played vividly in Lynch's mind.
"The thing that will always stick out with me is in the first minutes of his pontificate when he held up the cross and said to the world, 'Do not be afraid,'" Lynch said. "The message of this pope has always been a message of hope, a message of love and a message that we do not have to be afraid."