Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 18, 2005
Memories fill pope's memorial
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil shares stories of his friend John Paul with packed basilica
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
During what some have described as the largest service ever held at St. Joseph's Basilica, about 1,800 Catholics and other Christians filled pews, aisles and stairwells April 11 to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II.
Prepared by the Archdiocese of Edmonton, priests and parishioners from across the archdiocese attended the memorial Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins, who welcomed local leaders of various churches, First Nations and civic representatives, to pray for the repose of the soul of the pontiff who died April 2.
So many stories
"So many things we could say about this man," Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil told the hushed gathering in what he called "some reflections on the life and teaching of Pope John Paul II."
Like millions of others, MacNeil was swayed by recent media coverage that praised the man deeply committed to world peace and a universal love of God.
"It was intriguing for me to hear, or read, comments about him as a charismatic leader who brought down the Soviet empire, a friend of our young and our native people and of the sick and the suffering," MacNeil said. "He was described as a strong moral force in our world, a champion of human dignity of each person, of the right to life at every stage and a friend of Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths."
Watching television reports took MacNeil back to the moment he saw the pope in Jerusalem in 2000.
"He was praying at the Wailing Wall. In the next days, I saw scenes of two old men walking on the cobblestones in Jerusalem, hand in hand and in a way supporting each other - both suffering Parkinson's disease. John Paul II and (PLO leader) Yasser Arafat," MacNeil said.
Before one participating rabbi spoke, he turned to the pope and said, "Without you, we would never be here. Thank you."
Those scenes on television spoke volumes of his commitment to a devotion of peace and universal brotherhood, MacNeil continued.
"He was a man of the people, a man of God and a man of faith with integrity. He was a great communicator and the image of Jesus. Like Jesus, he was open to all, yet he challenged us with absolute truths and principles."
MacNeil described the pope as a torchbearer of peace and a bridge between various faith communities. He was a holy man and a saint.
"When we hear what people say, we applaud his going to the Father amidst our tears. We hear older people say they respect and loved him," he said.
"I think it would be wonderful if his successor would declare in his opening words, a plan to institute immediately the process for his canonization.
"And indeed, at his funeral, that is precisely what the people heard."
The pope "was truly a saint" and because he was human, he was not perfect, MacNeil said. "Indeed, his request to us tonight would be 'Pray for me, poor sinner.'"
MacNeil was asked in the days immediately following the pope's death, if he felt he had lost a close friend. His response was yes, but tens of thousands of people felt the same way. He then corrected himself after considering himself among millions who shared the same respect.
"I was blessed to have met him many times in various places. When he visited Edmonton in 1984, I had the privilege of having meals with him five times, plus an afternoon in Elk Island Park. We had very interesting conversations," MacNeil said.
In his remarks, the archbishop read extensively from the pope's 2001 letter At The Beginning of the New Millennium.
"The pope explained holiness as the high standard of ordinary Christian living, leading us naturally to prayer with Jesus, making us an intimate friend not only in imploring health, but also in gratitude and adoration, until the heart falls totally in love.
"To me, this sounds autobiographical because he spent hours each day in prayer. His concentration in prayer was so intense at times that he seemed to lose all sense of time," MacNeil said.
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