Pope John Paul II 1920-2005

By Gus Bode

Southern Illinois mourns loss of 1st Polish pope

The hall was somber and subdued Sunday night at the Newman Catholic Center as the Rev. Chris Piasta took his place behind the pulpit.

In front of him sat more than 75 people, some who gathered as usual for Sunday night mass, and others who came for solace one day after the death of leader of the Catholic Church.


“We didn’t only change the hour back last night,” Piasta said to the congregation. “For some of us, if not all of us, we changed much more.

“Today, we are living in a different reality.”

Pope John Paul II died Saturday night after years of pain, ending the Polish pontiff’s 26-year reign. As the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years, He was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. He was 84 years old.

For some followers, much of the end of last week was spent watching the deteriorating health of their pontiff via television or praying for him in church masses.

Reports say the pope died of a dramatic drop in blood pressure drop because of the urinary tract infection he developed Thursday. Through much of his final years, John Paul suffered from Parkinson’s disease and arthritis.

Tom and Leanne Furby attended a prayer vigil for the pope St. Francis Xavier Church in Carbondale as his final hours ticked away.

“We’re not here to mourn,” Leanne Furby said. “It’s more that we just hope he’s able to pass peaceably.”


Piasta said whoever is elected to replace John Paul will not have an easy task.

Much speculation has swirled around whether the leader of the Catholic Church will return to the Italians or be from elsewhere in the world. Some Vatican watchers have said the next leader could come from a developing country.

Piasta said now is the time for the Catholic Church to prioritize, and some of those choices include ordination of women, church versus state, Islam and gay marriage.

All eyes will be on the Vatican as the Catholic Church begins the 15 to 20 day process to elect a new leader. The cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel, where they will stay until one candidate receives a two-thirds majority vote.

Piasta, who was born in Poland, said when John Paul was elected in 1978, he was basically unknown to much of the world, but at the time, he was able to deal with the issues of the time, including Communism and Christian/Jewish relationships.

“He could understand those issues,” Piasta said. “This pope left the church with pretty decent youth involvement. Somebody has to continue that mission and many others. Although we don’t know who will be the one, we can keep guessing by looking at the issues.”

Piasta said John Paul logged many miles during his time as pope, which was something that no one in the Catholic faith expected because it hadn’t been done before.

The pontiff’s travels took him around the world, including to the United States many times.

Katherine Mosler, a junior in landscape design from Mount Vernon, saw the pope when he stopped in St. Louis a few years ago. She said even though she only saw him, she felt a connection with him. And that connection made his death even harder.

“It hit me at the wrong time,” Mosler said. “He really helped us through a lot of hard times. He was very gentle.”

Piasta said the pope’s political presence also allowed his death to be felt from those outside the Catholic faith.

“Many people all over the world today are mourning the pope, because they recognize that he was a great political authority and a person very much involved in the peace process and the reduction of poverty,” Piasta said.

Sarah Ragain, a junior from Goreville studying elementary education, is a recent convert to the Catholic faith. She said the death of the pope affected her life as well, even though she is new to the faith.

“I think we appreciate him now more that he is gone than when he was alive,” Ragain said. “I know being a new Catholic that it touched me because we see more about his life and how he affected everyone in the world.”

Reporter Andrea Zimmermann can be reached at [email protected]

Reporter Zack Quaintance can be reached at [email protected]