St. Joseph's Cathedral filled beyond capacity Friday as admirers and even some old friends packed a memorial Mass to bid farewell to Pope John Paul II.
More than 1,200 people -- young, old, black and white -- paid tribute to the pope, whose message of peace, they said, spoke not only to Catholics but to the world.
Bishop Edward U. Kmiec described the pope as a "great priest" whose dying and death evoked a massive outpouring of emotion that was "perhaps unparalleled in history," as demonstrated by the millions who flocked to Rome to pay their respects since the pope's death. "Isn't it amazing how even in his death he continued to give his message of faith, hope and love to the world . . . not so much his message as the message of Christ," Kmiec said, looking out from the pulpit into the cathedral jammed with people, hundreds of them standing. Many said they felt a need to be part of a formal gathering to say goodbye to the pope whose message resonated in their hearts.
There were 39-year-old Jesca Ayet and her two young sons, who arrived in Buffalo three years ago after fleeing oppression in Sudan.
"The pope was a pope to the whole world. He was a pope of peace not only for Catholics but for everyone," said Ayet, who found a spiritual home at Holy Cross Catholic Church on the West Side.
There was 67-year-old Tom Chowaniec of San Francisco, who was in town visiting his mother, Lucy, in West Seneca. "I was watching television, and I heard about this Mass and felt I needed to be here. My grandparents came from the same town as the pope in Poland," Chowaniec said.
There was 18-year-old Jennie Marinaro of South Buffalo, who couldn't stop thinking about when she saw the pope three years ago in Toronto at World Youth Day. "I was really touched by the pope's message. He didn't look at the youth as a hopeless cause. I was inspired by his strength, and I wanted to be here," Marinaro said.
There was Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York. "I think the world really lost a visionary leader, no doubt about it," Qazi said.
There were the very young.
"The pope was brave . . . just how he went through all that sickness," said 10-year-old Natalie Trinca of Buffalo.
And the very old. "It's amazing how many people are here. I came to see my son, who's a priest, but I didn't because there's so many people," said 83-year-old Flora Nogaro, whose son, the Rev. Paul Nogaro, is pastor of St. Stephen's Catholic Church on Grand Island.
And there were old friends who knew the pope when he was a young priest working with college youth groups in Poland.
Kazimierz and Zofia Braun recalled how the then Rev. Karol Josef Wojtyla would spend time with the 30 members of their group. "My husband would play volleyball or go hiking in the mountains with him," Zofia Braun said of the man who would one day become pope.
Kazimierz Braun said Wojtyla often prayed with members of the group but would sometimes go off on his own to pray.
After college, Kazimierz Braun met Wojtyla as he advanced in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Poland.
"I was a young director in the theater, and he asked me about the moral problems faced by a young director and said, 'Now you write a paper on that for me,' " said Kazimierz Braun, who ended up a professor in the University at Buffalo's Department of Theatre and Dance.
With a twinkle in his eye, Braun said the "assignment" helped him to be a better man.
But perhaps the most moving part of Friday's gathering came when Kmiec completed his homily by asking how believers can keep alive the memory and legacy of the pope.
Quoting John Paul II's own words, the bishop offered this suggestion:
"Christ's message must live in you and in the way you live and in the way you refuse to live. Your lives must spread the fragrance of Christ's gospel throughout the world."
And in his own words, the bishop, his voice trembling, said, "Goodbye, Holy Father."
The church, at that moment, broke out in applause.