Giovani Lalanne was aware of Pope John Paul II’s ailing health condition, when he walked back into his Miami hotel room around 3 p.m. Saturday, but he thought he would pull through.
But when Lalanne turned on the television and saw the news flashes informing the world that the man who had lead the estimated one billion Catholics for the last 26 years had died, he was frozen.
“I was shocked. I knew he had been sick for the last two to three months, but he always pulls out,” said Lalanne, 26, president of FAMU’s Catholic Student Association. “I thought he’d come through, I just thought about God looking over his life.”
As he continued to watch, Lalanne said he was reminded of what kind of man the pope was.
One channel replayed the incident in 1981 when the pope was shot four times as he blessed the crowd in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.
When the program chronicling the pontiff’s life transitioned into the next segment, it showed the pope forgiving and praying for the man who’d attempted to assassinate him.
“(The pope) embodied what Christianity is all about,” Lalanne said. “He was someone who lived his life according to Jesus.” Lalanne could only think of one word when asked how he would remember the pope, “longevity.”
“He was our leader, our No. 1 man,” Lalanne said, “he was like the President of Catholics.”
Driving back to Tallahassee down U.S. Highway 98 from a trip on Saturday, Marisa Lewis, a member of the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas-More on West Tennessee Street, looked back on the life led and the legacy left, by the pope.
“He was a man who tried to live his life as Christ did,” said Lewis, an associate professor in FAMU’s School of Allied Health Sciences. “He embraced all of his infirmities and didn’t use them as an excuse .”
Lewis reflected on her recent visit to the Vatican this past December, where she saw the pope.
Lewis said it was customary for the Pope to hold a public mass outside every Wednesday. However, on this particular Wednesday, the mass was held inside the auditorium due to inclement weather. She recalled the Pope greeting every pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square in his or her native language.
“It was a beautiful and moving experience,” Lewis said. “You could feel the presence of his spirit and the humility he had for people.”
Nearly 500 miles and eight hours away in Tallahassee, at Lalanne’ s home church, St. Eugene Catholic Chapel and Student Center on Gamble Street, the mood at Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. mass was serene yet celebratory.
It was the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday in the Catholic Church. On this day, Catholics celebrate Jesus’ mercy for all those who ask for forgiveness for their sins.
“It’s fitting the (the pope) died on Divine Mercy Sunday, because he believed in the mercy of Jesus,” said the Rev. F. Ilesanmi Osasona, Chaplain and Administrator at St. Eugene. “It’s sad that he’s gone, but it’s something of great joy that the church can be proud that one of its own is going home.”
Sunday, the congregation paid respects to a man who many said lived his life the way Christians are supposed to. The chapel even had a sign-up sheet for its members to wish good words to the pope and ask God’s blessing on him.
“We thank him for his life and for his example,” Osasona said. “His example of faith, dedication and commitment to what we believe in.”
On a day the congregation at St. Eugene’s mourned the death of the leader of the Catholic Church, a baby girl was baptized.
The ceremony served as the child’s official indoctrination into the church. This new beginning occurred the day after the church began to mourn the pope’s earthly end.
Osasona said when Jesus died, people thought it was the end, but when he arose from the dead, the Christian faith was born.
“We lost him to God as it were,” Osasona said. “From everything that God does, good always comes from it for the betterment of his people.”
In his message to the congregation, Osasona prayed for wisdom to guide the church in selecting a new pope.
“No matter what happens,” Osasona said, “Christ is still with his church.”
At the close of mass, Maria Okeke, adviser of the CSA, approached the congregation and belted out a solo, a capella, in memorial of the Catholic Church’s holy father singing: “God bless our pope, for he is good.”
Contact Nick Birdsong at firstname.lastname@example.org.