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Mourners Seek Solace in Public Gatherings

Like the Pope Who Helped Unite the Masses, His Faithful Pull Together in Their Grief

By Maria Glod and Maureen Fan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A13

Lauren Walter hadn't had much sleep when her alarm clock blared at 2:58 a.m. yesterday. The groggy 18-year-old slept for 10 more minutes before she slipped on soft pink sweat pants, grabbed a can of Mountain Dew for a jolt of energy and headed out the door.

An hour later, Walter joined several classmates in the auditorium at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax City. Her parents came, too, and a woman she had never met sat in the row behind her, weeping quietly. The room became nearly silent, even solemn, as about 60 students, parents, teachers and even strangers came together to watch live television coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal representative to the United States, walks in the procession before Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington. (Photos Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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Pope John Paul II Funeral Broadcast

Walter and many others said they came to the school, which opened its doors to the community and offered bagels and coffee, because mourning with others connected them to the throngs of people gathered in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square; in Krakow, Poland; and in cities around the globe to honor the pope.

"For one of the few times in my life, I've felt unity in my faith throughout the world," said William Palaszczuk, 18, a senior. "It's a moment I'll remember for a long time, if not for the rest of my life."

Washington area residents filled churches to overflowing and gathered in small, informal groups to celebrate the pope's life and reflect on his legacy.

During an afternoon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the District, representatives of 40 countries filed into the pews, and the pungent scent of incense filled the air.

At St. Patrick's School in Rockville, children learned about the pope and then created artwork for a memory wall. One first-grader drew a picture of herself praying.

For many, the day began with pre-dawn wake-up calls to watch live funeral coverage on television and continued with services and evening tributes to the life of a pope who united many, including non-Catholics.

The Rev. Mike Kuhn, chaplain at Paul VI, which is a part of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said the school was a fitting place to bid farewell to a pontiff who made a point of reaching out to young Catholics. Kuhn, who attended the Church's World Youth Days in Canada and Rome, said he has vivid memories of crowds of young people cheering, "John Paul II, we love you," and the pope responding, "John Paul II loves you."

"His devotions were the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, the poor people and youth. He knew if you reach them, you can reach everybody," Kuhn said.

Patricia De Jesus, 18, a senior, said she was struck by the pageantry and ritual of the funeral Mass and the many languages that were spoken. Even more amazing, she said, were the images of thousands of people who stood for hours to pay tribute to the pope. "I knew he was important," De Jesus said, "but I was surprised how much attention he got, how he affected the whole world."

Spectators at the school watched on a large-screen television. A portrait of the pope, draped in black bunting, was displayed on an easel nearby, and a candle with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe flickered on a small wooden table.

After more than 2 1/2 hours of quiet, the onlookers broke into applause when the cypress coffin was carried away for the burial.

Anne Robinson, 47, of Springfield came alone and sat apart. Throughout the service she wiped her tears with a sodden tissue she pulled from her purse. Robinson said she has no connection to the school but sought solace in watching with others.

"I needed to be alone in a crowd, to just grieve," she said.

Ross Hammerer, 18, a senior, said he admired the pope for reaching out to ordinary people. "You see the pictures of him putting his hand over his eyes and laughing, and you can see how he related to people so well," Hammerer said.

That theme was echoed at St. Matthew's, where Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal representative to the United States, remembered John Paul for his ability to bring Catholics and non-Catholics together.

Montalvo, who represented the pope in many countries, including Honduras, Nicaragua and Algeria, said his message "was both simple and profound: Christ is our Savior. . . . Every human person from the very moment of conception until natural death enjoys the dignity of being a child of God."

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