Milwaukee pays respects to pope

Two days after the death of Pope John Paul II, Milwaukee's faithful gathered at west Milwaukee's Basilica of St. Josaphat to mourn the passing of their religious father. Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan addressed the standing-room-only crowd, offering condolences and bolstering courage.

The location was especially appropriate for the service, Dolan said, because it was held in a basilica — one of only a handful of such churches outside of Rome.

"This brings us in bondage with Rome," Dolan said.

The lavishly Byzantine basilica was built by Polish hands, and so is a fitting place to remember "a son of Poland," he said.

The Polish people who built the basilica "sacrificed to keep it the gem of worship that it is," Dolan said.

Dolan also recalled the importance of Mary to the pope.

"Where does he go when he needs to cry? Where does he go when he needs to complain? Where does he go to open up?" Dolan asked. To the holy shrines at the grottos of Lourdes, he said, the site in southern France famed for the sightings of Mary recorded there.

Later in his homily, Archbishop Dolan petitioned God on behalf of the pontiff.

"We ask now, God, that he be yours for all eternity," he said.

Dolan has opted to stay in Wisconsin this week instead of traveling to Rome.

Vigils, remembrances and sevices in honor of the pope were held across Wisconsin in cities like Green Bay, LaCrosse and Wausau.

A scene similar to that in St. Josaphat's played out in Rome. Falling silent, whispering the rosary and clasping their hands, tens of thousands of pilgrims paid their final respects to the pontiff after his body was carried on a crimson platform to St. Peter's Basilica.

There was no stopping for a lingering view, a motionless moment of reflection. Many wept as they walked past the bier. Some collapsed against the wall outside after leaving the basilica, designed by Bramante and Michelangelo and dedicated in 1626.

But some still managed to snap photographs with cell phones as they passed John Paul's body, clad in a scarlet velvet robe, his head crowned with a white bishop's miter and a staff topped with a crucifix tucked under his left arm.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George said the cardinals prayed for about one hour before the procession and that the pope looked "at peace, but a man who had suffered."

All the time, as the line inched forward, it grew longer and longer; out of St. Peter's Square, stretching out of sight down the Via Della Conciliazione. Police said close to midnight it was two miles long — and many people wide.

Up to 2 million pilgrims are expected in Rome to pay their final respects this week.

Since the pope's death Saturday, the square has been transformed into an outdoor shrine of thousands of candles, farewell letters and notes scribbled on train tickets and tissues fused in puddles of melting candle wax.

In the days following the pope's death, hundreds of political and religious leaders have offered their condolences.

"The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, the world has lost a champion of human freedom and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home," President Bush said Saturday.

Several countries, including Cuba and Hungary, have issued national days of mourning.

Will Ashenmacher reported from Milwaukee. The Associated Press contributed to this report with reporting from Vatican City.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on April 5 2005.