IT has been said that the death of a pope brings forth an outpouring of grace upon the Church and on the world.
The modern era has never seen the likes of the gathering that occurred in St Peter’s Square and throughout the city of Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
The poor and the powerful came from five continents to give thanks to God and to pay tribute to the poet-priest from Poland who walked in the shoes of the fisherman, travelling the globe to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to all people.
As Pope, John Paul II went out to meet the world. This day, the world came to meet John Paul II.
Tears flowed freely around the piazza as the cypress coffin was laid on the ground in front of the altar.
The book of the Gospels, with its pages turning in the breeze, drew the gaze of the crowd.
In these moments the words of the Gospel were being mingled with the story of John Paul’s life and the summons ‘follow me’ was now complete.
Among the many moving moments that filled the day, the profound and gracious words spoken by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the homily, the rites of commendation in Greek and Latin, and the farewell gesture of John Paul facing the people one last time at the door of the basilica were for me the highlights.
On numerous occasions the funeral liturgy came to a halt as the millions of people applauded and chanted, and yet the sense of solemnity and prayerfulness was at no stage lost.
Despite the obvious sadness of losing a good and holy father, there was a vibrant feeling of hope and joy.
Among the vast crowd were hundreds of thousands of young people. In life, John Paul always found a special place for the young. In death it would be no different.
They lined the streets of Rome for days before, trying to secure a place whereby they might catch a glimpse of these sacred and unforgettable moments.
He always said that they were the hope and future of the Church. Their presence and energy seemed to confirm his belief.
The Romans were out in number as were the Polish people, and yet there was no sense of Pope John Paul belonging only to the Diocese of Rome or to the Polish nation.
He was ‘our’ Pope. He belonged to everyone without exception and it seemed that everyone was here to make their claim. It could be clearly seen by the presence of Christian, Muslim and Jew alike.
Catholic and Orthodox stood side by side in friendship and faith. ‘Ut unum sint’ — that they may be one.
The action that was unfolding before us was an eloquent sign of what Jesus had prayed for, a sign of what John Paul II had spent the past 26 years trying to achieve — the coming together of all of God’s people — the gathering of the human family in peace and love.
At the end of a long and emotion filled day I asked myself, where to now? Much of the Church and of the world for that matter has only ever known one Pope — John Paul II.
Soon after the funeral was over and John Paul had been laid to rest in the crypt of the basilica, the question of a successor was already being voiced.
‘Who could succeed such a man?’ was one comment I heard. ‘How do you follow him?’ was another.
The answer is simple. The next pope, like all the others, will be the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth.
Without a doubt he will have the prayerful support and intercession of Pope John Paul II. After all, in life or death no faithful disciple of Christ could ever abandon the Church.
Fr Tony Randazzo is a Brisbane archdiocesan priest who is based at the Vatican.