The District's Catholic churches and parochial schools found a variety of ways last week to mark the passing of Pope John Paul II.
The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Northeast Washington was jammed with adults and students who came to sign a book of condolence. In Southeast, the Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic Church was filled with spirited songs of praise by members of the church's gospel choir. And in Northwest, students at the Holy Redeemer Catholic School paused during their school day to write poems and make posters in honor of a man whose influence and legacy extended far beyond the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church.
At Holy Redeemer Church on Friday, second-grader Gregory Gaskin, 7, examines a photo of Pope John Paul II set near the altar. Services at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church on April 3 featured the choir led by Kenneth Louis, which also had accompanied the pope's Mass on the Mall in 1979. Robin Brooks, above, raises her arms as the choir sings "Total Praise," while below, Monsignor T. Ansgar Laczko, the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, celebrates the Mass.
(Photos Hamil Harris -- The Washington Po St)
"The pope was a nice man who cared about people," said Arnia Munlyn, a second-grade student at Holy Redeemer, who took part in one program last Friday in which children in every grade offered tributes and participated in a special Mass.
Father David Bava, the pastor of Holy Redeemer, said the schoolchildren remembered the pope because he "was an advocate for the care of the children. He supported education, and he stood for the life of the unborn."
Haneefah Hicks, a kindergarten teacher at Holy Redeemer, said it wasn't hard crafting a lesson plan to teach children about the pope.
"I tried to keep it as simple as possible," she said. "I focused on how the pope cared for people, how the pope was kind, how the pope prayed to God."
Honor roll students and class leaders at Holy Redeemer also took a field trip to the John Paul II Cultural Center, joining the crowds who came to pay their respects.
"We have set up a special exhibit once the Holy Father passed away," said Daniel Callahan, the center's director of exhibits. "We have a collection from official Vatican photographers as well as some of the gifts the pope received."
The pope lived a simple life, without many possessions. Callahan said the center has many items that were given to Pope John Paul II over the years, including the Medal of Freedom that President Bush awarded to him last June and a nautilus shell from Fidel Castro.
"Hundreds of people from across the country have been coming," Callahan said. "There were three Polish doctors who drove down from Philadelphia just to see the center" and to sign the condolence book.
On April 3, Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church was filled with spirited sounds of praise from members of the church's gospel choir. The choir also participated in 1979 when the pope celebrated Mass on the Mall.
"The Holy Father was interested in music of all cultures, in particular the music of the African American community," said choir director Kenneth Louis, who was one of the music directors when the pope said Mass in Baltimore and Miami in 1995. "He loved African American sacred music."
The choir sang a gospel selection, "Total Praise," written by award-winning District composer Richard Smallwood.
A portrait of John Paul II hanging in the sanctuary of the predominantly African American parish was draped in black.
"Our Holy Father was an extraordinary servant of God who has gone home to be with the Lord," said Monsignor T. Ansgar Lazcko, who called Pope John Paul II "a model and leader for all religious leaders of the world."