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‘He was true to his God’

James Pugh, Faithful Navigator of The Knights of Columbus, closes the doors of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral prior to Thursday's memorial service for Pope John Paul ll. 
 (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
James Pugh, Faithful Navigator of The Knights of Columbus, closes the doors of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral prior to Thursday's memorial service for Pope John Paul ll. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

They gathered to pray, to mourn and to show gratitude.

On the eve of Pope John Paul II’s funeral, Catholics from throughout Spokane came together not only to grieve his death, said the Rev. Steve Dublinski, but “to celebrate his life and to give thanks to God for the great gift he has given us in Pope John Paul II.”

Hundreds flocked to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in downtown Spokane Thursday night to attend a memorial Mass for the man Catholics call their Holy Father. Days after the pontiff’s death, a profound sadness still pervades the lives of many Catholics.

“He was such a holy man,” said Jennifer Sund, a member of St. Joseph’s in Otis Orchards. He was also the only pope she ever knew. Even now, the mother of four feels an emptiness inside, she said, a sorrow that’s hard to explain with words.

It’s as if someone in their own families had died, many said. And if they had the chance, a number of those who attended the Mass would have immediately flown to Rome to attend the funeral that was scheduled for 1 a.m. today, and pay homage along with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims.

Long before Mass started, the cathedral was already packed with worshippers, many clutching a memorial card with the pope’s photograph and a prayer for the repose of his soul.

As organ music and the peal of voices singing “For All the Saints” rose to the cathedral’s ceilings, the procession began with the Knights of Columbus – more than a dozen men wearing black suits, white gloves, flowing capes and feathered chapeaus – leading the way to the altar. This worldwide fraternal order has served as the pope’s escorts during his visits. The Knights were followed by altar boys, deacons and priests from parishes throughout the Diocese of Spokane.

At the foot of the altar, they paused at a framed photograph of John Paul II, flanked with votive candles and surrounded with Easter lilies.

It was an emotional service. Indeed, some people wept and many held back tears as they listened to the Rev. Monsignor John Steiner read John Paul II’s last message. They were words the pope was too weak to speak, but wrote for his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to read during Easter Sunday service, six days before his death. “We, the men and women of the third millennium, we too need you, Lord! Sustain us, we pray, on our journey. In you do we believe, in you do we hope, for you alone have the words of eternal life.”

During his homily, Steiner showed a photograph of himself with the pope, whom he met in 2002 in Belgium. He spoke about how blessed he felt to have been in the presence of a man Steiner believes will someday be canonized a saint.

“This pope of our age has transformed the face of the papacy and the church,” Steiner said from the pulpit. “Things will never be the same. We have been witness to this awesome moment in history.”

Steiner also described how John Paul II followed Jesus’ call in the Gospel of John, when he asked Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” When Peter, the vicar of his church, replied in the affirmative, Jesus told him to feed his lambs, tend his sheep and to follow him.

Later in his homily, Steiner said: “When the future King of England changes his wedding date to attend the pope’s funeral, you know the first miracle of the ascending of Pope John Paul has already taken place.” His words about Prince Charles’ pending wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles elicited both laughter and applause from the crowd.

Many who came to the Mass agreed with Steiner’s assessment that John Paul II will be canonized.

“He was true to his God, he was true to his church, he led by example,” said John Erp, a Knight of Columbus since 1994. “He is an inspiration to all of us.”