Pope’s Passing

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April 13-19, 2006
Pope’s Passing
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Basilica Remembers Pope John Paul II with Special Mass on Anniversary

A little over a year ago the world’s attention was focused on an ailing Pope John Paul II waving from his hospital window. Through his infirmity he showed people of all faiths how to suffer with dignity much like Christ crucified. Pope John Paul II finallly succumbed after developing the flu and years of health problems. It was April 2, 2005 and he died shortly after a Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday was celebrated in his room.

Special Masses commemorating the Holy Father’s passing were held around the world. The beloved pontiff’s influence was noted even in India where a bust of John Paul II was unveiled at the bishops’ conference building in New Dehli. In Syracuse, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus honored the pope’s memory with a Mass that offered moments of reflection and special music including a hymn sung in Polish, John Paul II’s native language. Gold and white bunting was draped inside the Basilica and a portrait of John Paul II was placed near the altar. Father Peter Gleba, rector of the Basilica, began the Mass saying, “We pay honor and respect to a pope who gave his life in everything he did.” His homily was a testament to the life of the late pope.

Father Gleba remembered that he was serving at St. Mary’s Church in Clark Mills and then Bishop Frank Harrison was present for confirmation on the day back in 1978 when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope. “We wondered how he was chosen, where he came from,” Father Gleba said as he began his reflection on the life of John Paul II. John Paul II’s great devotion to the Blessed Mother came after his own mother died when he was just nine years old, Father Gleba said. It was then that the young boy took the Blessed Mother as his own mother. He lost his only sibling, a brother, when he was young as well. He and his father lived in Krakow where he studied, among other things, drama and poetry. All the while, his experiences were preparing him to be the great pope that he was, Father Gleba said.

Father Gleba reminded the congregation of John Paul II’s great love for young people and the fact that he instituted World Youth Day. He spoke of his connection with Poland and how he figured prominently in that country’s overcoming communism and oppression.

“He was shot May 3, 1981,” Father Gleba told the crowded at the Basilica. “The Turk who shot him asked, ‘Why couldn’t I kill you?’ and the pope said, ‘Because the Blessed Mother of God shields me.’” The Basilica owes John Paul II a debt, Father Gleba said. It was under his pontificate that the church was named a basilica. “If the pope comes [to Syracuse] he would come to our church and celebrate Mass. Whatever happens in Rome, we have to do here,” Father Gleba said. “We pray for him and look forward to the day when he becomes a saint so we can pray not for him, but to him.”

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