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As hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in Rome to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II, a local Catholic Mass was held last night in Rosary Cathedral in honor of the Pontiff's remarkable life.
Bells tolled solemnly from the cathedral's steeple as about 450 people, many dabbing at tears, walked through the wooden doors draped with black bunting to gather under the cathedral's 96-foot ceiling.
With Bishop Leonard Blair in Rome, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly presided at the ceremony, formally called the Mass for a Deceased Pope, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II.
Retired Bishop Albert Ottenweller, nearly 30 priests and deacons, and a squad of caped Knights of Columbus joined the entrance procession through the building and onto the altar.
Music by choir, pipe organ, and vocal soloists filled the air with hymns such as "Ye Watchers and Holy Ones," and "I Know that My Redeemer Lives."
The Rev. Tad Oxley of St. Patrick's of Heatherdowns Parish opened his homily with a poignant quote from John Paul: "●'Thank you for coming to me,'●" Father Oxley said.
"These were the words our beloved John Paul II, on his deathbed in his apartment in Rome, when pilgrims had come to be with him during his time of death. Throughout his pontificate, he had gone to them. Now we, represented by those pilgrims now we were going to him."
Father Oxley's love and admiration for John Paul was evident in word and in inflection as he poured his feelings into a eulogy for the man lying in state 4,600 miles away but so close to the hearts of Toledoans.
He said John Paul had a way of reaching every person in the audience, even a crowd of thousands. "He connected with them. There was energy with them. The Holy Spirit was there," Father Oxley said.
He also praised the Pope for showing by example that a Christian "didn't have to be like a plaster statute in a church, but we could be fully human."
The Pope's love of sports, art, theater, and humor "made the call to holiness real," Father Oxley said.
Among those attending last night's Mass was K. LaVerne Redden, who met John Paul four times and in 2001 received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice cross, the Vatican's award for esteemed service to the church and the Pope. She is a former president of the Toledo and national councils of Catholic women.
"I am both happy and sad," Mrs. Redden said, teary eyed, after the Mass.
"He was such a holy man, such a spiritual man, and he really was the Pope of the people. He made you feel like you were so special. He would look at you with those beautiful eyes, and you'd just know that you were in his prayers and that he really thought about you."
Abed Alo, president of the board of the Masjid Saad on Secor Road, and Ziad Hummos, president of the masjid - another name for mosque - attended the Mass. "We lost a man of peace and a man who was building bridges among different faith groups," Mr. Alo said.
Mr. Hummos said he came to honor the Pope and called him "a man of peace who meant to make change," playing a key role in overthrowing the Communists in the Pontiff's home country of Poland.
Catholic dioceses around the world will begin a nine-day period of mourning starting after the Pope's funeral in Rome on Friday.
In the 19-county Toledo diocese, all 157 parishes will hold a special Mass for Pope John Paul II one day during that nine-day period, according to Sally Oberski, the diocese's director of communications.
- DAVID YONKE