DENVER — Ryszard Drubkowski wants people to remember Pope John Paul II the way he saw him — a strong, vibrant leader who made his homeland known to the world and helped defeat communism.
The Polish native, who followed the pope on his 1993 World Youth Day visit to Denver and ended up staying, spent the weekend distributing 2,000 copies of a photograph showing a younger John Paul, smiling and with hands clasped in prayer.
“All the world trusted him and knew him very well,” said Drubkowski, handing out copies to people leaving Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception near downtown Denver. “... I would like now for people to remember those great things and what he did.”
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said the death of John Paul II was especially difficult for those Catholics who have never known any other pope.
“A man like John Paul II comes maybe once a century. And God sent him into a century that had forgotten what it means to be human. But in spite of all the suffering and failure and the evil he saw in the world, he radiated hope. His faith renewed our faith,” Chaput said to a packed cathedral, where the pope stopped during his 1993 visit.
A photograph of the pope surrounded by red roses was displayed on the altar.
Cathy Innerst of Denver remembered learning of the appointment of John Paul II in 1978 over the intercom at her Catholic high school in Hagerstown, Md. Now 44 and a mother of five, she said she felt like she was losing a father.
“He’s been pope for my whole adult life. The church has been redirected under him,” she said.
Innerst and others also stressed the pope’s ability to relate to all kinds of people.
“He was very human, and he understood the problems of the people of this world, not just Catholics,” said Sean Salomonson, 39, after attending Mass at the Shrine of St. Anne in Arvada.
Rosemary Berry said the pope had a “rock star” quality that convinced her daughter to go see him during World Youth Day, even though she was no longer a practicing Catholic.
“He was the people’s pope,” she said. “It’s so sad, but he’s not suffering anymore,” she added.
Before Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Denver, Dave Munoz spoke of the pope’s interest in helping humanity throughout the world, regardless of the people’s background or economic situation. That feeling isn’t shared by many of the world’s leaders, the 36-year-old police officer from Denver said.
“He didn’t have a problem lowering himself to everyone to connect with them,” Munoz said. “Wherever he was, he was trying to change something for the better of man.”
During the late morning Mass said in a mixture of Spanish and English, the congregation there prayed to follow the pope’s example of unending service and faith. Afterward, the Rev. Mark Franceschini said many Catholics were connecting the pope’s death Saturday to the Easter season and Christ’s death and resurrection.
“The truths of our faith are really the beginning of our healing,” Franceschini said, standing next to a tent where a woman sold religious jewelry and pictures.
At the Shrine of St. Anne, the Rev. David Croak told parishioners that he attended Mass with the pope shortly after the pope returned to the Vatican from World Youth Day.
After the Mass in the pope’s personal chapel, the pope asked Croak where he was from, and when Croak replied that he was from Denver, he said the pope’s eyes lit up and he said, “Oh, World Youth Day!”
Croak said as the pope left the room, he turned to the priests with whom he attended the Mass and told them, “Be brave.”
“I took that to mean be courageous in preaching the gospel, don’t try to water it down and don’t try to please people,” Croak said.
Salomonson said he was saddened by news of the pope’s death. He said the man chosen to be the pope’s successor will have a difficult job.
“I think Catholics are so diverse it will have to be someone who understands diversity and tolerance. We’re being pulled so many different ways, by politics, money and greed, and disagreement over gays and abortion. I think his successor will have to be someone who is more understanding, because the world has changed,” Salomonson said.
Ernest Salazar, 78, of Arvada, who shook hands with the pope when he attended World Youth Day, said now is not the time for the church to let down its guard.
“His successor needs to follow the same conservative line. We don’t need any changes on abortion, women in the priesthood, or other changes,” he said.
Croak said it may be time for the church to at least have a discussion on tolerance.
“It’s a different world. I don’t like the idea of intolerance. I don’t like division. Gays are human beings too,” he said.