Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Prayer Vigil Brings Community Together In Prayer

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 7, 2005

As word came that Pope John Paul II was gravely ill, archdiocesan Catholics flocked to the Cathedral of Christ the King to pray for their shepherd and to find comfort in community and in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Cathedral Friday, April 1, for a prayer vigil held for the ailing pontiff from 9 p.m. to midnight. Throughout the night, the Catholic faithful trickled into the candlelit church. Some came seeking solace in their community, others praying for peace for the man who had been more than just a leader to them for the past 26 years.

Kathy Kroll, a parishioner at the Cathedral, said she came to pray with others.

“It’s hard to put into words what I feel right now. He’s been such a wonderful leader, really a people’s pope,” she said. “The church was founded on community and I felt I needed to come here tonight to be with my community. I wanted to be with other people to pray for him.”

At times the Cathedral was filled. After a day filled by watching cable news coverage of the pope’s failing health, many parishioners came to pray for an hour, their hands abandoning TV remote controls, their fingers instead seeking the familiarity of rosary beads.

The evening began as the congregation sang the words that had meant so much to Pope John Paul II. Many cried as the recognizable words of “Be Not Afraid” softly filled the Cathedral.

Entering the Cathedral from the door nearest the sanctuary, Father John Matejek, parochial vicar of the Cathedral, brought forth the monstrance. Msgr. Thomas Kenny, rector of the Cathedral, as well as parochial vicars Father Stephen Lyness, Father Richard Morrow and Father Pedro Poloche, and Deacon Scott McNabb, also participated in the prayer vigil.

“This is a time for us to think of the good things about our church, and the wisdom and strength of our Holy Father who led our church into the third millennium,” Father Matejek said. “We should thank God that we were chosen to live at this time in the history of our world, to live under the reign of such a holy pontiff, who lived his life in holiness, who governed the church in holiness and who will die and go to God’s gate in holiness.”

During the vigil, parishioners had time for private reflection and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, which remained exposed on the altar throughout the service. The priests and Deacon McNabb also led parishioners in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the luminous mysteries of the rosary, which Pope John Paul II introduced in the Year of the Rosary, 2002.

Father Lyness spoke of the pope’s great devotion to the Blessed Mother.

“It was Jesus’ command to John while he was on the cross, ‘John, behold thy mother,’ and to Mary, ‘Woman, behold thy son,’” he said. “John Paul’s mission, one of his primary missions, was for us to grasp the power of that relationship that Christ has for us.”

Many Catholics were praying with “mixed emotions,” Father Lyness said, mourning the loss of the pope, while giving thanks for his holy life.

“Pope John Paul II was a man of great strength. He was a man of great conviction. He suffered during World War II. He saw the end of communism,” he said. “We pray in his same mission to see the end of a culture of death and to embrace a culture of life.”

Deacon McNabb read from the Gospel passage in which Jesus tells his disciples that they will now become fishers of men. “Be not afraid,” he tells his apostles.

For Deacon McNabb, a convert to the Catholic Church, this has been the only pope he has known as a Catholic. He spoke to the congregation about the lighter moments of the pontiff, including the time the pope met Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2.

“When I think of the pope, I think of his great joy, and his willingness to go out into the deep,” he said. “One virtue I think has been hallmarked by his papacy is living what Jesus told Peter, ‘Be not afraid,’” he said.

As midnight drew closer, Father Matejek blessed the congregation in Benediction. As he lifted the monstrance to process back to the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the priest encouraged others to follow him up the main aisle and down the side of the church to the perpetual adoration chapel. Pope John Paul II had declared 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist, and having the faithful follow Christ in the Blessed Sacrament to be reposed in the chapel is “just what he would have wanted,” Father Matejek said.

A native of Chicago, which boasts the largest Polish population outside of Poland, Father Matejek remembers well hearing of the election of a fellow Pole.

“I was at the Polish American Club, and someone said to me, ‘Johnny, look! They’ve elected a Polish pope,’” he said. “We were all just incredulous.”

When the pope came to Chicago in 1979, he celebrated a special Mass for the Polish community, and Father Matejek said he was blessed to be in attendance.

Though the Cathedral prayer vigil united Catholics in sadness, Father Matejek said it was the right place to be.

“It reminds us of what Christ says to his apostles: ‘When I’m leaving you, love one another,’” he said. “That’s what tonight was all about.”

Their great love for the Holy Father brought the Eldridge family from Winder, where they attend St. Matthew’s Church. Ray Eldridge, 18, has only known one pope in his lifetime, and he said that John Paul II has made a difference in his faith.

“He was very in touch with teenagers,” he said. “Wherever he went, he would just spread the message (of the Gospel).”

Ray’s mother, Julie, said she too felt a deep connection to Pope John Paul II.

“I was away from the church for five or six years, and I came back because of Ray. Children are empowering their parents. The Holy Father has made a difference,” she said. “He’s always stood for Christ and has never given in to what others say. It’s been his way of the cross that has really empowered me to go out and fight for the things I believe in.”

Jill Prejean, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, fought back tears during much of the service.

“(The pope) is just such a phenomenal person and he has touched so many people,” she said. “I just needed to be here tonight to pray with other people who loved him.”