Latin Americans mourn death of ‘a father,’ Pope John Paul II
By Lise Alves
Catholic News Service

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNS) -- Maria da Gracia Soares hadn't seen so many distraught people heading to church as on the Sunday immediately following the death of Pope John Paul II.

"People feel as (if) they have lost a family member…a father," she said April 3 while selling cups of water to passers-by.

"He was probably the greatest pope I will ever have the chance of seeing. He was a man of God who was not ashamed to come down and talk to the poor, like us," said Soares, 54, who has been a street vendor for five years.

Throughout Latin America, cardinals and presidents announced special Masses and official days of mourning, while many people simply remembered the pope who came to visit their country.

In Brazil, the pope was known as "John of God," a name given him during his first Brazilian visit in 1980. On April 3, the hymn "Bless Us, John of God," composed for him, rang out in churches and in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, one of the world's largest soccer fields. At the end of the match, players and fans stood up in homage to the dead pope.

Spiritual leaders from other religions also paid tribute to the pope.

Mother Corajacy, a leader of the Afro-Brazilian candomble religion, said she was sorry for the death but glad for the end of the pope's suffering.

"He was shot at and was sick but nonetheless continued his journey," Mother Corajacy told reporters in Sao Paulo.

"I hope that the orixas (similar to saints in the candomble religion) will continue to protect John Paul II," she said.

In Brazil, a large number of Catholics also practice candomble, brought to their country by African slaves.

In Sao Paulo, Catholics were joined by Muslim and Jewish leaders in a prayer service for the pope.

Catholics in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos recalled the pope's 1985 visit to their jungle area.

At the open-air Mass, the crowd chanted a welcome from the "charapas," a nickname for Iquitos residents stemming from the local word for a tropical turtle.

In perfect, rhyming Spanish, Pope John Paul told them, "El papa tambien se siente charapa" -- the pope also feels like a "charapa."

The incident went down in the country's Catholic lore, and the story is retold whenever people reminisce about the pope's time in Peru.

"There was a special sympathy between the pope and the people of Iquitos," said Bishop Julian Garcia Centeno, who was named apostolic vicar four years after the visit.

"Whenever I visited him in Rome, I would remind him that I was from Iquitos, and he would say, 'The pope is a charapa.' With the number of visits and trips he has made, the fact that he remembered always impressed me," the bishop said.

"The entire town has been praying for him during these days," Bishop Garcia said.

In Chile, tens of thousands of people flocked to church all over the country April 3 to attend special services for Pope John Paul.

In Santiago, the capital, the cathedral was packed with mourners while nearly 15,000 others spent hours in the main plaza outside, singing, weeping and holding photos of the pope.

Inside the cathedral, Santiago Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa celebrated a Mass attended by President Ricardo Lagos and other top government officials. The cardinal recalled the pope's 1987 visit while Chile was under a military dictatorship.

"His message inspired us to be artisans of peace, democracy, liberation, reconciliation and solidarity," the cardinal said.

Lagos decreed three days of national mourning and recalled the pope's crucial role in mediating a peace agreement between Chile and Argentina over a border dispute. In 1978, the two countries were on the brink of war before the pope agreed to mediate.

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Contributing to this story were Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru, and Pascale Bonnefoy in Santiago, Chile.

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