Catholics and non-Catholics gather to mourn. "It's like losing family, like your mother or father died," one man says.
By ROBERT FARLEY, JORGE SANCHEZ, JAMAL THALJI and GRAHAM BRINK
Published April 4, 2005
Cassandra Owa prays for Pope John Paul II at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg Sunday. The 11-year-old says she prayed "people will always remember him." Photo gallery: Honoring the pope
Zygmund Karwowski remembers sitting in jail in Poland, put there for participating in the Solidarity movement's push to end the Soviet stranglehold on his country.
As months passed, Karwowski clung to the righteousness of the cause and the knowledge that a powerful ally was in his corner. Even the darkest hours are brightened when you know the pope is working for the same cause, he said.
The recollections brought Karwowski to the brink of tears on Sunday.
"He really gave us a sense that there was still someone to protect us," said Karwowski, a Dunedin resident. "We were so thankful for that."
Catholics and non-Catholics alike remembered Pope John Paul II during religious services across the Tampa Bay area Sunday. Some, like Karwowski, fought back waves of emotion. Others rejoiced "such a great man" was finally at rest. A few contemplated who might be the next leader of the Catholic Church.
In Lecanto, the Rev. Richard Jankowski recalled the pope's sense of humor.
Before he became the pope, he was cardinal of Krakow. Jankowski was paddling in a lake in northern Poland when he saw a group of young men with an older man they called "uncle." It was the cardinal, traveling incognito with a youth group during the communist regime.
"When I passed by, the man they called uncle said he would say a prayer for me for God to lead me safely out of the forest," Jankowski told his congregation at St. Scholastica Roman Catholic Church.
As a seminary student years later, Jankowski met the pope at the Vatican.
"I think I've seen you before," the pope said.
"Holiness, I'm sure you remember me as that wild boy that was on the lake," Jankowski recalls saying.
"I see that my prayer worked," the pope replied. "It led you right out of the forest and into the seminary."
"We we can be with Jesus'
At Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor, the Rev. Robert Schneider gathered the children to the front of the church, where they sat in front of the altar.
Schneider pointed to a picture of the pope displayed next to the Easter candle, and asked if anyone knew who he was.
Several answered, "The pope."
And what had happened to the pope?
"He died, didn't he?" Schneider told them. "That's kind of sad when you think about it."
He asked the children if there was anything good about it, too.
"Heaven," several children said.
"That's right," he said.
Catholics believe in eternal life in heaven, he said, and "that's where we believe the pope is now."
"Even though it's sad when someone dies, our faith teaches us we can be with Jesus," he said.
Schneider briefly explained to the congregation the process that would take place to select a new pope and prayed the transition would be a good one.
"We pray for his eternal salvation as well as the future of our church," Schneider said.
Focus to busy world
The Very Rev. Gregg Tottle was a seminarian in Miami in 1987 when the pope brought him to tears.
Tottle has never been fazed by celebrities. But tears streamed from his eyes as Pope John Paul passed by in the Popemobile.
"There is a sense of being in the presence of someone of great holiness," Tottle said.
The doors at Tottle's church, the Cathedral Church of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, were draped in purple cloth to mark the mourning. A large picture of the pontiff rested by the altar.
During a homily on Sunday, Tottle said Pope John Paul, the 263rd successor to Saint Peter, played a pivotal role speaking to leaders around the world, but also in connecting to common people.
"He spoke for those who have no voice," Tottle said.
In his homily, Father Sam Vaccarella of the Franciscan Center in Tampa said the pope's death brought focus to a busy world.
"I wonder if God breaks into history to wake us up to say, "Pay attention to what is really significantly important,"' Vaccarella said.
At St. Cecelia Catholic Church near downtown Clearwater, Father Donald Leininger told parishioners the crowds in St. Peter's Square were a heartening reminder that the gospel is carried by a community that began with Christ and continues to this day. Through his travels and other works, Pope John Paul helped spread that message, Leininger said.
"He worked so hard for the church, so we can ask the Lord to thank him for that, especially as we continue to pray for him during the coming week," Leininger said.
At Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Jim Wood and his wife, Shirley, were not among those caught up in the mourning. They were respectful but do not hold the pope in the same regard Catholics do.
For several days, Wood, a former Tampa Port Authority chairman, has noticed the constant coverage of the pope's failing health and death.
Coming on the heels of the extensive coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo, "It's overdone," he said.
After Sunday morning Mass at the Historic Church of the Holy Cross at the Saint Leo Abbey, the pope was remembered not just for his passing, but for how he passed on.
"Everybody dies, you can't get out of this life alive," said Father Paul Romfh. "The pope has shown to the world a way of dying gracefully."
Romfh said while the pope's legacy is a great one, it will be years before the world knows exactly what that legacy is.
"I think he was a magnificent man," Romfh said. "His affect on the world is going to be great."
John Santiago, a 73-year-old retiree from New Port Richey, said while he mourned and celebrated the pope, he was not saddened by his passing.
"I'm happy for him because he's with Jesus," Santiago said. "And he suffered just like Christ suffered in his life as a little boy in Krakow, Poland.
"He was a remarkable man. He had a mission on this earth and he fulfilled everything that God asked him to do."
To Santiago, it was destiny that Karol Jozef Wojtyla of Poland would become the first non-Italian pope since 1523.
Now he wonders, who else is destined?
"This year they may have a Latin American or an African pope," Santiago said. "I think it would be an interesting thing to have."
"Like losing family'
Karwowski, the jailed Pole who moved to the United States 16 years ago, was not looking ahead to the next pope. The pontiff's death left him with an empty feeling. As a fellow Pole, he had felt a connection.
"It's like losing family, like your mother or father died," Karwowski said. "He really was the person to inspire us to be together and to work together. "
--Times staff writers Sherri Day, Kevin Graham, Logan Neil and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.