The night before John Paul II’s memorial service in St. Peter’s Square, I walked through masses of people preparing to “camp out” for the night. People had brought sleeping bags, blankets, cardboard boxes, bed rolls, almost anything they could find which would keep them warm through the night on cobblestone streets or cement pavement near the square.
I walked by one group of youth huddled around a guitar player singing “laudate omnes gentes” (sing praises, all peoples). Just a few yards away three priests had set up a makeshift altar and gathered 20 or 30 communicants who were celebrating the Eucharist.
It was extremely difficult to make my way through the crowd without stepping on someone. Yet there was not an angry anxiousness one often finds in such crowds. At times there were outbursts of song, the sound of which seemed to envelope one as the narrow streets leading into St. Peter’s Square acted as a funnel for the sound. At other times, a haunting quietness came over the hordes of people.
I asked one teenager from a central Asian republic, “Why are you here?” She replied, “This man was so great, I just had to be here. You don’t ask ‘why?’You just show up. You have no choice. There are some things God expects of us.”
I had come to Rome during the week of April 3-8 to be a part of a musical presentation at a Vatican symposium in honor of Pope Pius XII. Excerpts from the sacred opera, I Am the Way, by Jerome Hines were to be presented at the symposium. After our arrival, however, we were informed that in honor of the late Pope John Paul II all public events had been cancelled until further notice.
Then a most unusual thing occurred. Sister Margherita Marchione, MPF, of the Religious Teachers Filippini and one of the primary sponsors of the symposium, was invited for an interview with the Telesalute TV network in Rome. After discussions with the director of the network, it was decided that the excerpts of I Am the Way would be filmed and broadcast on the Telesalute network at 9:30 a.m. on April 8, immediately prior to the 10 a.m. memorial mass at the Vatican. The program would be dedicated to the loving memory of Pope John Paul II. It was my privilege to sing “The Twenty- Third Psalm.”
When I heard the responsorial Twenty-Third Psalm during the memorial mass, I was overwhelmed by the honor and privilege of singing this powerful Psalm of strength and consolation as part of a program in honor of John Paul II.
The incredible outpouring of support for this man of God in St. Peter’s Square on April 8, 2005, underscores that one can make a difference for good, peace and unity in a world of violence, hatred and strife. There were not only representatives of the Roman Catholic Church from throughout the world, there were leading Muslim Imams, Jewish rabbis, Metropolitans and bishops of the Orthodox churches, officials and bishops of Protestant churches, and leaders of state from every inhabited continent.
Those present from innumerable countries and walks of life, and the overwhelming number of young people, made it clear that John Paul II’s appeal knew no boundaries of class, race or age. He was indeed a pope of all the people. It is not surprising that in the thousands gathered for the memorial of this great advocate of peace and unity that there were numerous signs declaring, “Santo subito!” (Saint now!).
S T Kimbrough Jr. D’62 of Princeton, N. J., is associate general secretary for mission evangelism with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. An international scholar, teacher, and musician, he has recorded Sacred Songs of J. S. Bach (VMS Records) and The Art of the American Song: Songs of the Wild West (VMS Records). His most recent books are We Offer them Christ (GBGM Books) and Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press).
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