Local Catholics honor, remember pope

A bouquet of flowers arrived on the front steps of the church Sunday morning. There was no note, no indication of the sender. It traveled to the spot on the goodwill and regards of someone who recognized the loss.

Colorful, fragrant and so alive, the bouquet sat alone that morning. It was ironic and yet symbolic at once, that this lively bunch would stand guard at the alter. The floral delivery was a gesture of understanding toward the congregation of tiny St. Hubert Catholic Church in Langley. It was how the staff at St. Hubert woke up to a dawn after a tear-filled evening in front of the television news.

At 9:37 p.m. Saturday evening, in the accompaniment of only a few of his closest aids, Pope John Paul II, leader of the 1 billion-plus-member Roman Catholic Church, died in his apartment at the Vatican.

This week, Seattle Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, and local Catholics joined the world in prayer and mourning for the pope.

This week, Rev. Rick Spicer, pastor at St. Hubert Catholic Church, talked of the rainy October Day when he first heard the news about Pope John Paul II. He was in a Seattle bookstore when he read the 1978 headline that told the world that a new pope had been named.

“I will never forget the day he was elected,” Spicer said. “Whoever thought a young, robust Polish cardinal would be chosen as pope.”

As the black bunting was hung over doorways at St. Hubert this week, it almost seemed fitting that the day after John Paul’s death was Divine Mercy Sunday — a day the pope had declared in 2000.

On Monday 130,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and adjoining streets to attend mass for John Paul II. In Langley, during a memorial mass at St. Hubert Catholic Church Monday evening, Spicer repeated Pope John Paul’s message to “be not afraid, come follow me.” Intermingled was the liturgical message of hope that is often repeated following the celebration of Easter. This week it carried a new meaning.

Spicer reflected on the Pope’s will to live his ministry to the very end of his life, and related a story about how John Paul wanted to send messages to the thousands that gathered outside for him as he lay dying.

“He fought the good fight and kept the faith until his last breath,” Spicer said.

The service was one Spicer would not give up the opportunity to lead. It was one he almost didn’t make. On Feb. 18, while in Anaheim, Calif., for a conference, he suffered a heart attack. Four days later, he underwent a triple bypass surgery, and he is still in cardiac rehabilitation. There was uncertainty of his ability to stand through the service, but he did — he had to be there.

There were no tears inside the sanctuary of the church, where 470 families worship each week. If there were, they were few, passion-filled and in remembrance a man and his legacy of peace.

John Paul II was known as the pope’s pope, a pope of the people. He was the most linguistically skilled of all the popes.

“Whenever he traveled, he made a point to learn the language of the people he was visiting if he didn’t already know it,” Spicer said during Monday’s service. “Even if it was only a brief amount, he wanted to be able to talk to everyone.”

At that, smiles broke in remembrance.

Long periods of silence punctuated Monday’s service. Heads bowed in deep sighs. The verses of hymns such as “Shepard Me, O God,” whispered up to the wood planked ceiling of the small St. Hubert’s sanctuary. The songs called out to look “beyond my fears, from death into light.”

The parishioners, like millions around the world are finding hope and celebration in the Pope’s passing.

“Even when illness slowed him down, the Holy Father always championed the cause for human dignity,” Spicer said. “He fought the good fight and kept the faith to the very end, setting a good example for is to follow. I am happy for him, for now he is home with God, free of his many illnesses.”

A photo of the late pope that was taken during the pope’s pilgrimage to Iowa sat on a small table next to the slater. Flowers, including the lone bouquet that welcomed staff to the church Sunday morning, surrounded the photo taken by a classmate of Spicer’s from seminary school.

“He never gave up the fight for human dignity, and took his stand even if it was unpopular,” Spicer said. “John Paul II became one of the most significant world leaders of our lifetime.”

Many memories of John Paul

“The pope unified the church with the love he had for all of us — he is one of the greatest popes we’ve had,” said Mary Ann Gwin of Langley. “He had a special kind of love that he spread right up to the end.”

The pope was an integral part in the life of Langley resident Damian Green, a lifetime Catholic who was named after the famed Hawaiian priest, Father Damien.

In October of 1999, Greene traveled to Rome with his wife, son, and former St. Hubert’s priest father Gerald Moffett. While there, he visited the Vatican and was given the opportunity to take audience with the pope, which the pontiff traditionally did every Wednesday before 10,000 attentive followers.

“With all these different representatives from all over the world it was amazing to realize we were all there to be in communion with Christ,” Greene said.

From the start of John Paul’s leadership, Greene was impressed by the pope. But it was after the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt against John Paul that remembers the most.

“I figured anyone who could be shot six times, live and forgive the man who did it had extreme divine force in him,” Greene said. “American Catholics aren’t always in line with the Vatican, but they could always understand where he was coming from: a place of love and peace.”

While in Rome, Greene was witness to the lengths to which the pope extended his hand in the name of peace, even if it was the unpopular path.

“He brought about dramatic change in the world,” said Marcia Halligan, parish administrator for St. Hubert. “He was always traveling and reaching out to remind people they are not just a part of their own world, but of the whole world.”

Greene still remembers the streets of Rome lined with parked cars that had been papered with posters bearing the Italian word for scandalous in response to the pope bringing in leaders from Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities.

“He exemplified what it meant to be Catholic and the meaning of welcoming everyone,” Greene said. “It was unheard of, but for that meeting everyone agreed to have the same God together.”

What’s next for Catholics?

Within 15 to 20 days, the College of Cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel to elect John Paul II’s successor.

The Rev. Spicer has faith the Catholic Church will find another grand man to lead its followers. While rumors are already spreading that the the top candidates are from Latin America, Africa and Asia, Spicer is leaving speculation to a higher power.

“Whoever is chosen to be our next pope will certainly have big shoes to fill,” he said. “Right now, only God knows who he next pope will be.”

What matters now is the leadership of the church carrying through with the direction the pope was heading, according to Halligan

“It will be a matter of praying that spirit carries the way of the selection,” she said.

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