In pope’s home town, local residents ‘bear the burdens of loss’
By Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service

WADOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- The rector of the main basilica in Pope John Paul II's home town has urged residents to be "strong with hope and faith" in order to "bear the burdens of loss" after the pope's death.

"While praying especially hard, we must also learn to use the freedom he gave us," Father Jakub Gil told mourners at evening Mass in the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice April 3.

"We are afraid now of daily life without the pope, who watched over us, just like Christ on the Mount of Olives. We are afraid that, without the Holy Father, we will be unable to cope," he said.

"At the last moment of his life, he was with us," Father Gil told parishioners. "In his hour of death he remembered his home town."

Up to 10,000 people remained in the town's main John Paul II Square throughout the day after an all-night vigil that followed news of the pontiff's death.

A family friend, Zofia Silkowska, whose father attended the same school as the pope and died last November, said other friends of the pontiff were in mourning.

"We can't close ourselves in pain -- when we look at other people, we should realize our problems are only minor," Silkowska told Poland's Zycie daily April 4. "The pope is no longer with us, but his wisdom still is. We should remember his words and live them out."

A Passionist sister told Catholic News Service that local priests said an extraordinary number of people received Communion after the pope died and that the basilica had received a steady stream of visitors.

All cultural and sporting events in the town were canceled; local schools sent children home early March 31 after news of the pope's worsening health.

News of the pontiff's death was met by the tolling of church bells.

A mother comforted her sobbing teenage daughter outside the basilica, telling her the pope "will still be with us."

Meanwhile, an elderly woman said Wadowice residents had prepared themselves for the pope's death, but were still reacting in shock.

"We knew it would end some day, but it's still hard for us to accept the news," she said.

For the third day, police kept vehicles out of the town's main square, where road signs point to nearby Auschwitz and Bielsko-Biala, in whose hospital the pope's brother died of scarlet fever in 1933.

The square's council building, decorated with pictures of the then-Karol Wojtyla as a child and seminarian, carried a banner stating "Wadowice council -- always faithful to John Paul II."

A 12-year-old boy at Wadowice's secondary school said he and his friends were all "very sad" and that they had attended church several times since news of the pope's death.

Milena Kopczyk, 20, said local people were "proud and amazed" that their town had produced a pope and said Wadowice would always be a "very special place."

"His heart has always been with us," she said.

"People will learn to cope with their loss. After this long and painful goodbye, they'll also remember him as he once was -- strong, robust and healthy," she said.

Father Gil told Poland's national daily Rzeczpospolita April 3 that he has played the role of "spiritual leader" for Wadowice residents.

"I feel I'm bearing the pain and suffering of others -- it's a cross that will be less heavy the more people share it with me," he said.

Rzeczpospolita said many Wadowice inhabitants had recalled their last pilgrimage to Rome in March, adding that the pope's last public words in Polish from his clinic window had been "witam Wadowice" ("welcome Wadowice").

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