Mexican Americans at church in San Antonio remembered his 1987 visit as they cried at their loss. Black worshipers in Southeast Washington recalled the papal trip to the nation's capital in 1979 and celebrated his life with gospel hymns. And at a downtown D.C. cathedral, a Polish American paid quiet tribute to the Pole born in 1920 who rose to head the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.
Such were the scenes yesterday as Catholic faithful and many non-Catholics thronged churches across the region and the nation, mourning Pope John Paul II as a spiritual leader who touched chords among diverse followers. Some gazed upon portraits of the pope, which were adorned with flowers and draped with black or purple fabric, as they paid homage to the only pontiff most Americans younger than 40 had known.
For many in the pews, thoughts also turned to the church's future as the U.S. delegation to the College of Cardinals began its journey to Rome to help choose a successor.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, departed yesterday afternoon. Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, also prepared to participate in the secretive, centuries-old ritual, along with nine other cardinals from the United States and 106 more from around the world.
In Northwest Washington, two teenage girls knelt in prayer before a bronze bust of John Paul inside the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle minutes after McCarrick celebrated a parting Mass. Lilies, azaleas, roses and a tall memorial candle surrounded the sculpture, which marks the site of an October 1979 papal Mass.
"He was a just person and truly cared for everyone, not just Catholics," said Leigh Pauley, 18, of Melbourne, Fla., on spring break from Catholic school. "I'm hoping the cardinals can find someone as compassionate as he was."
Her schoolmate Dominique Caravano, 17, said she wanted the next pope to bear in mind the ethnic and racial diversity of a church that has an estimated 1 billion followers globally.
Strands from that vast tapestry of faith could be seen in cathedrals and smaller sanctuaries across the United States. Everywhere, there were reminders of the peripatetic pope's seven visits to this nation (counting two brief Alaska stopovers) and his pilgrimages to other countries with strong immigrant ties to America.
In Los Angeles, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the overflowing pews formed a tableau of worship: a trio of nurse assistants in vivid pink and turquoise scrubs; a man in a starched shirt in suspenders; two women in sandals and ponchos who wore bells on their ankles that rang as they knelt to pray. A priest recounted John Paul's 1987 Mass at Dodger Stadium. Three years later in a private meeting in Rome with Los Angeles clergy, the priest said, the pope disarmed his visitors by asking, "How's Hollywood?"
In Boston, Catholic churches in the Italian North End neighborhood teemed with nearly twice the usual number of worshipers. A pastor at St. Leonard's Catholic Church, where parishioners prayed beneath colorfully painted statues of saints, declared that the pope's death had "flooded the airwaves with his message of peace for the world."
In Olney, generations of Korean immigrants -- elderly women veiled with sheer white headdresses, spiky-haired teenagers in jeans, middle-aged parents pushing baby strollers -- attended two Sunday morning Masses at St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Church. One was recited in English, the other in Korean.
In Northwest, a Filipina immigrant attended Mass for the first time since arriving in the United States 16 months ago. Benus Bisana, 35, said she came to St. Ann Catholic Church to mourn the pope she saw from afar in the Philippines in the 1990s.
In Southeast, a gospel choir at Holy Comforter St. Cyprian Catholic Church offered full-throated musical tribute to a pope they saw up close in a visit to the District more than a quarter-century ago.
"We sang for the pope when he celebrated Mass on the Washington Monument grounds," said Lawrence Holland, 74, a member of the choir in the predominantly black church.