By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO and ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writers | Published April 14, 2005
Solemn and respectful was the mood as Catholics and non-Catholics from around the metropolitan area gathered for the archdiocesan memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II, celebrated on Thursday, April 7, at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, dressed in the deep red vestments connoting “feasts of the apostles,” presided at the Mass, concelebrated by more than 40 priests of the archdiocese. Also attending were more than 20 deacons and hundreds of Atlanta’s faithful. The memorial Mass, which overflowed the confines of the Cathedral, brought together men and women of all ages, beliefs and races, much like the ministry of Pope John Paul II had done.
The Mass began with a moving prelude, a performance of “Totus Tuus,” composed by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki for a High Mass celebrated by the pope in Warsaw, Poland, in 1987. “Totus Tuus” refers to his papal motto, “I am completely yours,” and the piece honored his lifelong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
The music for the rest of the Mass was quietly beautiful, calm and soothing, reflecting the prayers of the congregation. Mass parts in Latin, based on Gregorian plainchant, from Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem” included the traditional “In Paradisum,” expressing the rising prayer “May the angels lead you into paradise.”
In his homily Archbishop Gregory welcomed not only those of the Catholic faith in attendance but also the civic officials and approximately 30 representatives from other Christian denominations and from Judaism and Islam who had come to honor the pope’s memory.
“From the heart I welcome the many people who have come together,” he said, mentioning the priests, deacons and Religious in the congregation and adding a “special, sincere, cordial greeting” for the state, city and county civic officials. He also “warmly embraced our revered … interfaith and ecumenical friends” who had come to the Mass.
The archbishop expressed his thanks to each individual “for being close to all Catholics throughout the archdiocese as together in prayer we are ever so grateful for the great ministry and witness that this wondrous man has provided for our Church and for the world for more than 26 years.”
Archbishop Gregory employed the words of the first reading, from Acts, chapter 5, to expound upon the life of the late pope. The Scripture included a command, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name.” A “dangerous activity,” he noted—teaching in the name of Jesus—and yet words by which Pope John Paul II lived. His homily provided examples of how the pope had lived and taught his faith in the name of the Lord.
The pope “spoke to the world in the Name about our dignity as God’s children,” the archbishop said. “He spoke about the importance of living in peace in a world rendered ever so complex by a wide variety of peoples, political systems, religious faiths, economic conditions.” John Paul II taught a respect for life from its first moment to its final stages.
The archbishop continued with a reminder that the pope had “called all Catholics to understand and live our faith, not just the parts of our faith that are attractive and personally pleasing to us, but the entire deposit of our religious tradition as it has come down to us through the centuries.”
The pope “taught the Name in such a way that he intrigued and fascinated the young and gave hope and encouragement to the poor and neglected, and confirmed and strengthened his brothers in the Episcopacy in guiding our local churches.”
Archbishop Gregory suggested that people will miss the pope’s “strength and fidelity most,” noting that “the whole world has paused at the death of this Universal Shepherd in homage and gratitude.”
He concluded with a simple prayer, asking God to forgive whatever sins the pope may have committed and to reward him with eternal life.
“Our prayer,” he said, “is filled with confidence both in the Lord’s endless compassion, but also in the goodness of this simple man of faith … Even in our grieving we find a reason to hope, as St. John tells us, God does not ration his gift of the Spirit … We praise him for the gift that John Paul II was, and we ask him to provide him with a reward for his service and witness of love.”
At the general intercessions following the homily, representatives from a number of other denominations and faiths proceeded to the altar to proclaim the prayers with sincere faith from the ambo, asking God to bring Pope John Paul II into his presence, to “heal the pain” of people of faith everywhere in mourning, to fill the cardinals with grace and the “wisdom of the Holy Spirit as they select the next leader of the Church.”
Another prayer mentioned those who “die by violence, war and famine each day,” asking for God’s mercy. The congregation prayed together for “believers everywhere to grow in mutual respect and understanding.”
Following the Mass, the congregation milled outside the Cathedral or in the parish hall, discussing the legacy of Pope John Paul II.
Susan and Allison Gerdvil, sisters who are parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock, attended the Mass at the Cathedral and expressed their admiration for Pope John Paul II.
“When I think about the pope, I think about the culture of life,” Susan Gerdvil, 27, a recruiter for Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, said. “It’s so close to the mission of our school and what we are trying to bring to our students. It all started with Pope John Paul II.”
Allison Gerdvil, 29, believes that the pope was a role model for young people and adults alike.
“The Holy Father was such an inspiration for life and purity for young people and for families,” she said. “He always spoke about the culture of life and what a witness he was to the whole world. He always told the truth and we needed him to tell the truth because it really will set us free.”
Laura Gallinari, also a parishioner of St. Michael’s, said she came to the Mass to show her love for Pope John Paul.
“I came out of respect and love and admiration for him. He was a true servant of Christ because he saw Christ in every single person,” she said. “He always spoke the truth with love.”
Bill Hebert, a parishioner at the Cathedral, said he came to “honor the pope for all he’s done for Christ.”
“He’s given us 26 good years,” he said, adding that it was inspiring to see the ecumenical and interfaith presence at the Mass. “The pope was so much about unity, and seeing all the interfaith community members here—I think this is exactly what the pope would have wanted.”
Karen Vogtner, principal of St. John the Evangelist Elementary School in Hapeville, said that though her students are young, they had a great love and respect for John Paul II.
“They had such a connection with him. They really see him as a father figure. His love for them just came through,” she said, adding that the students have been learning about papal history and the process of choosing a new pope.
“This has been a wonderful teaching moment for us, not only about the pope but really about the whole history of the church. It’s a way to truly show that it is the Holy Spirit who is really in charge of the church.”