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US Catholics Mourn Pope, Celebrate His Legacy


In cathedrals and parish churches from New York to Los Angeles, 65 million Catholics in America remembered Pope John Paul II, often in terms that reflected the words of President Bush, who called the late pope one of history's great moral leaders. Pope John Paul was remembered as principled and outspoken, whether addressing the former communist leaders of his native Poland or the leaders of the world's democracies.

The bond between the pope and the Catholic faithful was highly personal, and Monsignor Robert Gipson of Saint James church in suburban Los Angeles says this is a time of strong emotions for most Catholics. "Obviously there's sadness because of the separation of a pope that we've had for almost 27 years, and yet there is great joy that he is at home with the heavenly father at peace. And that he has given to us a great legacy," he said.

The priest called the late pope a personal hero.

American Catholics remember Pope John Paul II as an outspoken defender of traditional Catholic teachings, with which some American Catholics took issue. Some disputed his strong stand against artificial birth control and the ban against women in the priesthood. But even among those Catholics, the pope is remembered for his compassion and his defense of the poor and oppressed of the world.

Many outside the church remember the pope for his mission to reach to others. Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said this pope, more than any other, helped overcome a Christian history of anti-Semitism. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations spoke about the pope's role in interfaith reconciliation.

Los Angeles resident Art Wilson is a Christian, but not Catholic, yet he attended the Sunday service in a local Catholic parish. "I am very moved by the death of the pope and felt that I need to come to the church today and pay my respects for him and the life he lived, and the wonderful things he gave to the world and his showing of love for everybody. And I just felt like I need to come to church," he said.

Parishioner Joe Willemse remembered the pope as a man of peace. And Rachel McKeehan echoed the thoughts of many Catholics when she said she is happy ailing pope, who had been gravely ill for several weeks, has been relieved of his suffering. But she says she is sad the world has lost a spiritual leader.

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