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SADNESS MULTIPLIES
AS AREA CATHOLICS MOURNED THE PASSING OF BISHOP HEAD, THEY RECEIVED THE NEWS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II'S DEATH

Western New York Catholics paying their respects to Bishop Edward D. Head Saturday afternoon expressed a double dose of sorrow as word spread that Pope John Paul II had died.

"This week has been so sad -- Bishop Head and now the pope," said Frances Catania of Cheektowaga.

Catania spent about a half-hour praying inside St. Joseph's Cathedral, where the bishop's body lay in state surrounded by a team of changing guards from the Knights of St. John and the Knights of Columbus.

"It felt good to come here. I feel a little better," she said.

The cathedral received a steady stream of visitors coming to honor Head, the Buffalo bishop who led the diocese from 1973 to 1995. Head died Tuesday at the age of 85.

As mourners arrived in the early afternoon, many of them openly wondered about the state of the gravely ill pontiff. By the time the bishop's wake was winding down at 4 p.m., reports had revealed John Paul II died at 2:37 p.m. (EDT).

Upon confirming the news, diocesan officials placed a large picture of the pontiff near the lectern of the cathedral. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec then celebrated a 4:30 p.m. memorial Mass for Head and the pope.

"We all loved him. He seemed so close to us. He was like a family member," Kmiec said in a news conference after the Mass. "We're happy for him because he's with God in heaven."

Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, who was appointed a bishop by John Paul II after Head submitted Grosz's name to the Vatican for consideration, said the pontiff had suffered enough.

"He lived his Good Friday," said Grosz. "If anyone is going to get a great crown of glory, it's going to be the Holy Father."

The timing of the pope's death was significant, said Grosz, because it fell on the first Saturday of the month, a traditional time of Catholic adoration for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Grosz said the pope was "totally devoted to the Holy Mother."

The pope's death occurred as well on the vigil of the Feast of the Divine Mercy, a special Catholic feast day associated with St. Faustina, whom John Paul II canonized in 2000.

"He's the pope of mercy," said Amy Betros, co-founder of St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. "For him to die on that day is very providential."

Following the Mass Saturday, Catholics formed two lines down the center aisle of the cathedral, pausing at Head's open casket and making the sign of the cross.

"It's been a tough week for us Catholics, with the Schiavo case, Bishop Head and the pope," said Gary Moran of Niagara Falls, referring to Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state and died after her feeding tube was removed amid an outcry from pro-life groups, including the Vatican and several Catholic bishops.

The Diocese of Buffalo has more than 700,000 Catholics, nearly half the total population of the eight counties of Western New York.

At 22 years, Head's tenure as ordinary bishop was the second longest in Buffalo diocese history. Pope John Paul II's 26-year papacy was the third longest in history.

Some Catholics mentioned that if they couldn't venture all the way to Rome they could at least visit the cathedral to pay respects to both Bishop Head and Pope John Paul II.

Barbara Russell of Orchard Park stopped into the cathedral for about 20 minutes and offered a prayer for both the bishop and the pope -- even though she said she doubted either man would need them to reach heaven.

The pope's death meant that Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, would no longer be available to preside at Head's funeral Monday, as was originally planned.

Egan was on his way to Rome in preparation for the pope's funeral and for the conclave of cardinals that will follow to select the next pontiff. It will be Egan's first conclave.

Kmiec said the church will move forward even with the loss of its great leader, and Catholics must now trust that God will provide them with a new leader chosen from the conclave.

"That's always a promise given to the church," he said.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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