Yale students and New Haven residents joined thousands of Catholics around the world in spirit to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II.
The pope died at 3:37 p.m. EST (9:37 p.m. in Rome) on Saturday, in his private apartment at the Vatican. He had been suffering from severe health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, a heart condition, and kidney malfunction. His health deteriorated suddenly on Thursday night, when a urinary tract infection caused him to develop high fever.
At St. Thomas More, the Catholic Chapel at Yale, students, faculty, and community members honored the pontiff at all three of their Sunday masses. During the 5 p.m. mass, the church was overflowing with students who were visibly stirred. At the beginning of the service, the Rev. Mark Villano, associate Catholic chaplain, said that the pope’s death is, more than anything else, an opportunity for prayer, and encouraged students to embrace life.
“Remember that life is ours,” he said.
After reading from the gospel, Villano remembered the pope in his sermon. He focused on the meaning of the ancient title “Pontifix Maximus,” which can be translated as “the bridge builder.”
He said that he was deeply moved when he saw Democrat Ray Flynn admiring the pope’s work alongside Republican Patrick Buchanan on national television.
“He is still building bridges, even now,” he said.
Villano proceeded to read a speech which the pontiff had addressed to a group of Catholic University students in Washington. In the speech, John Paul II expressed his desire to get to know the students better. He also encouraged them to meditate and not to restrict their lives to the pursuit of material possessions.
Villano said he was certain that if the pope was present in Thomas More last night, his message would have been the same.
New Haven residents honored the pope at St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue. At the noon mass, the presider encouraged everyone to pray for John Paul II’s entrance into the Holy Kingdom and connected the religious teachings of Divine Mercy Sunday to the pope’s life. He said John Paul II always asked for God’s help during the hardest moments of his life.
The Rev. Robert Beloin, Yale’s Roman Catholic Chaplain, said the church will honor the pope every day of the coming week, through various readings from his writings. These will take place at the Liturgy of the Hours on Monday, as well as during mass on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Beloin said the students he has interacted with expressed grief towards the pope’s death, heightened by the fact that John Paul II was the only pope any of them had ever known. At the same time, he said, the students seemed to foster deep feelings of appreciation for the pope’s work.
New Haven residents at St. Mary’s echoed that appreciation for the pope’s long life. Joyce Garofalo expressed her respect for his work.
“We were very fortunate to have him for such a long time,” she said. “He reached out to a lot of people, and was outpouring with affection.”
Given the pope’s severe health problems and ongoing suffering, some students saw his death as a blessing in disguise.
“It was a relief and a blessing that he could reunite with Christ,” Jolanta Golanowska ’05 said.
Kingsley Deslorieux ’08 said that his sadness was overshadowed by the joy and admiration he felt when he contemplated the pope’s life.
“I was so happy about … how dedicated he was to all Catholics out there,” he said. “He is one of my favorite Catholics of the last century, and I am glad that he finally is where he belongs.”
Others had different reactions. Brian O’Roak GRD ’09 said that the news instantly filled him with grief.
“All I can say is that this is a very sad time,” he said.
When contemplating the possible changes that a new pope could bring, most students were at a loss. Marissa Brittenham ’07 said that for her, the papal position was entirely defined by John Paul II’s activity, and that it was hard to imagine what having a new pope will be like.
O’Roak said the selection of the new pope could be a cause of anxiety for the church, and that he hopes the next leader of the Catholic Church will come from either North or South America.
“We are a group of growing Catholics,” he said. “We want a voice.”
New Haven resident Jene Bonocoure said the election of a new pontiff represents a big challenge for the church.
“At this time in the world, a shepherd like this has to be well versed in a lot of things,” she said. “He has a lot of traditions to uphold.”
Lisa BonoCorredor GRD ’06 said that with the church looking mainly at non-traditional, non-Italian candidates, she predicts the new pope will be very open and inclusive. Galanowska, who is from Poland, the pope’s homeland, said she does not expect another pope from her country.