Monday, April 04, 2005

Gibraltar mourns Pope John Paul II

by Alice Mascarenhas

Faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for a solemn mass at The Vatican yesterday to celebrate the death of Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II, whose 26-year papacy helped defeat Communism in Europe but left a Roman Catholic Church divided over his uncompromising orthodoxy, died on Saturday after a prolonged struggle with ill health.

Bishop Charles Caruana celebrated mass locally at the Cathedral.

Gibraltar, together with the 1.1 Billion Catholics throughout the world, today continues to mourn the death of the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II. The Pope died at 9.37pm on Saturday night.

With the news of his deterioration on Friday many in Gibraltar, where Catholicism is the predominant religion, joined the millions of viewers closely following the latest developments unfolding live on television, and the reaction immediately following the official Vatican announcement of his death.

Today the Catholic Church enters its second day of official mourning which will last nine days to next Monday.

The bells of the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned and all other churches continue to toll 27 times on the hour, every hour, each bell representing one year of the 27 years of Pope John Paul II's Papacy. This is expected to continue until the day of the funeral.

Meanwhile prayers will be heard throughout this week in all local churches, and many flags will continue to fly at half-mast including the Vatican flag upon the Cathedral.

An hour after The Vatican officially made the announcement of the Pope's death on Saturday night St Mary the Crowned opened its doors so the faithful could pay their respects.

A Book of Condolences was opened and remains in the Cathedral side patio entrance.

A funeral Mass will be held at the Cathedral on Thursday at 6pm as a tribute to Pope John Paul II. Other local religious leaders are expected to be present.


'United the World'

Bishop Charles Caruana, yesterday celebrated 10.30am Mass for the repose of Pope John Paul II's soul, calling for prayers on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the feast of the Divine Mercy. Broadcast over Radio Gibraltar the written text of the Bishop's homily spoke of the Pope's deep conviction in his faith. It was this conviction which the Bishop believes made him so confident, "so solid, like a bulldozer in a new world supported by prayerfulness throughout his life".

"In life he went out to the people. In death he has united the world and they have come to him," he said in reference to the scenes on television which have shown communities in prayer throughout the world; in Poland, across Europe, in America, in Australia and in China.

Bishop Caruana recalled how the Pope had been enslaved under the Nazi occupation of Poland and under Communist rule, of how he had been instrumental in bringing down the Iron Curtain, of his mission to bring back life to all that was Christian in Europe, of his world travels where he spoke bluntly of injustices to the leaders of nations.

On Saturday night his first reaction had been one of sadness describing Pope John Paul II as a great man whose term of office had been characterised by his dynamic and charismatic personality.

"It is doubtful whether there has been a Pope who has so successfully translated his strength, determination and faith into such widespread respect and goodwill. In a world of shifting trends and leaders of questionable virtue, the saintly John Paul II was a towering figure at the moral centre of modern life," he stated.

Bishop Caruana spoke fondly of him as a brave man who acted as one, whilst at the same time, he was also humble with a big heart.

"A man with a tremendous personality who was appreciated by the whole world and who to the end remained the conscience of the modern world."

He added:

"Pope John Paul II was criticised for his traditional stand on contraception, marriage between homosexuals, and the ordination of women priests, but he was consistent in the teachings of the Church wherever he travelled."


Reactions

The Dean of Gibraltar, The Very Reverend Alan Woods, said he had been saddened by the news although that sadness was tinged with joy at the passing of a great Christian who has now returned to his Lord and maker.

"We give thanks for all he was able to do during his life and especially during his Papacy in seeking for peace and justice in the world."

Expressing his condolences Rabbi Hassid said Pope John Paul II's death was a great loss to humanity. A man who had done much for Catholic Jewish relations, and who had moved away from previous Catholic doctrine by respecting everyone's rights and other religions.

"The fact that he accepted the State of Israel was a big step forward. He was also prepared to say on many occasions that the whole of humanity were all children of God," he said.

Rabbi Hassid believes the Pope took away the fear of the unknown, and recalled how in his childhood had grown up together with Jewish children, not so different from what it was like here for the Rock's Catholic leader, Bishop Caruana, and Bishop Devlin in Ireland.

Rabbi Hassid hoped that what this Pope had begun would continue and that the old fashioned dogma would not return.

The Jewish Community president James Levy said he has already written to the Bishop expressing condolences on the death "of an extraordinary world leader."

Loreto Sister Maria Suetta said the Loreto Sisters on the Rock had been following the events of the past few days intensely in prayer.

"His death is a great loss for the whole world not just for us Christians but for all religions because his outreach has been to all the people," she said. "Pope John Paul II was really a man who captivated the Church not just as an institution but as a movement," she added.

Over the 26 years of his Papacy Pope John Paul II had on a many occasions met with people from Gibraltar. Three of Gibraltar's bishops had been received in Private Audience by this Pope. Bishop Caruana several times, also the late Bishop Rapallo, and of course Bishop Devlin.

This Pope personally appointed bishops Devlin and Caruana as bishops of Gibraltar. He also consecrated Bishop Devlin to the episcopate in Rome in 1985 in the presence of hundreds of Gibraltarians.

'The World will miss him'

Other local clergy and groups from Gibraltar also met His Holiness. He officially received the Chief Minister Peter Caruana and Christina Caruana in the Vatican in 1998. The Chief Minister described Pope John Paul II as a man who had cut across political divide on a global basis.

"For those of us who are believers we have lost a great religious leader and a great spiritual director. The leadership we have had within our own faith during the last 27 years has been huge," he said. Mr Caruana acknowledged this Pope as one of the world's great moral leaders establishing inter-religious relations where there were none before, outreaching to the Jewish faith, to the Muslim faith in particular, and to many others.

"The world will miss him far beyond what we believers - and Roman Catholics - will miss him," he added.

Recalling his visit to Rome with his wife Christina, the Chief Minister believes this Pope paid a great honour to Gibraltar.

"The Pope not only agreed to receive me as Chief Minister on behalf of the people of Gibraltar, but when we got there, we were afforded full head of Government treatment, with the Swiss Guards, and carpets and all of these things. So, here is a man who put diplomacy and…at least political disputes to one side and engaged with every side to every dispute without taking sides and said…well the fact that this is the head of a Government of a small community of 30,000, colonial community, is no reason to give them any less respect than the leader of any other country who wants to visit me."

The Chief Minister believes this showed a huge amount of respect for Gibraltar on that occasion in 1998, as he had done for every country he visited during his papacy.

Perhaps one of the most memorable occasions for the people of Gibraltar was the Pilgrimage to Rome in October 2002 when the Pope crowned the image of Our Lady of Europe at St. Peter's Square. The statue which sits in the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe was taken as part of the Gibraltar Pilgrimage lead by the Bishop of Gibraltar Charles Caruana together with 200 pilgrims.

During the audience with the Pope, for the first time ever, he placed a rosary on the centuries old statue containing the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary - as the Catholic Church began the Year of the Rosary. This was the first time most of the local clergy and so many people from the Rock had attended an audience with the Pope.
The Coronation of the statue was widely reported in the Vatican news and made the front page of the L'Osservatore Romano, and was also covered on Vatican TV, as well as EWTN.

Bishop Caruana at the time said the Pilgrimage to Rome 'pastoral - Ad Limina' visit proved to be very successful. When he later met with the Pope on his own, Pope John Paul II, gave him a blessing for the people of Gibraltar and wished everyone on the Rock peace.

"He was very interested to know about the relationship the Catholic people had with the Church, and their welfare. He was also very interested in Gibraltar's youth and the vocations to the priesthood," he said on his return.

Polish Consulate

Gibraltar's Honorary Consul of Poland, Tony Lombard, described the Pope as a
charismatic figure with extraordinary communication skills who always conveyed to the world the eternal truths of the Catholic Church and message of hope found in the love.

Mr Lombard's connections with Poland date back to his days in Prior Park College in Bath. But it was during the 1980s, his contacts were consolidated, in particular with the Government-in-Exile in London, headed by the President-in-Exile, Kazimir
Sabbat. When the old Communist guard was purged from Poland he was asked if he would wish to be appointed Honorary Polish Consul at Gibraltar.

"Naturally, such an appointment represented a recognition of Gibraltar by Poland and it was the first occasion when a fresh Diplomatic Mission had been accredited to Gibraltar in very many years. I was the first Honorary Consular appointed effected by the Polish Government in the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories and since then several have followed."

Mr Lombard believes that in the circumstances, it can be said that the late Holy Father contributed to his appointment.

"If he had not played such an important part in the bringing of freedom to Poland, my appointment as Polish Consul, springing as it did from the free Polish Government in London, might not have materialized."

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