From Pope John Paul II’s hometown in Poland to heavily Roman Catholic Latin America, worshippers around the globe asked God’s blessing Friday for the man whose tireless travels brought the papacy closer than ever to far-flung congregations.
In Mexico, where the 84-year-old pope has been received ecstatically five times, concern was high but attitudes were hopeful, especially after Vatican officials said John Paul was doing relatively well after a tracheotomy Thursday night.
“If he could survive a bullet, which is worse than what he is going through now, then hopefully God will want him to survive this,” said Marianela Hernandez, referring to the 1981 assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square.
“I think it will be difficult, but not impossible,” she said, standing in front of Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe.
Atmosphere of calm
Priests offered prayers for the pope at the basilica, but the atmosphere here and at other sanctuaries around the world was calmer than when the pope was first rushed to a hospital earlier this month with breathing difficulties.
“I think if God wills it, he will be very welcome in heaven,” said Mexican businessman Carlos Caballero.
Perhaps nowhere were sentiments more fervent than in the pope’s native Poland.
“We wanted to wish him to carry his suffering like Christ did, that he accept this suffering as one more cross with which God marked him,” said Kasia Gryczowska, 17, after a Mass in the pope’s birthplace, Wadowice. “So all those who suffer will bear it with the same spirit.”
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski sent a letter saying, “The heartfelt and concerned thoughts and prayers of Poles are with you, your Holiness, in your suffering.”
Speculation about successor irritates some
In the Philippines, where 4 million people turned out for a single Mass during the pope’s 1995 visit to Manila, priests called for special prayers for John Paul.
“We are just so lucky to have him as pope, and he is such a holy man, at the same time so warm and he really loves the Filipino people,” said former President Corazon Aquino.
The pope’s illness prompted an outburst of speculation in many news media about who might replace him and whether he might resign, irritating some.
“Why don’t they leave that up to God?” asked the Rev. Adolfo Guerrero, canon at the Basilica of Guadalupe.
Speaking at a Mass dedicated in part to the pope, he asked God “to illuminate him, to help him and to give him peace in his remaining days.”
At Our Lady of Pilar Church in Lima, Peru, 32-year-old Maria del Rosario Quiroz was among those praying for the pope. She said she had been part of the human chain formed to protect John Paul when he visited the country.
“Seeing him so close, only 2 meters (6 feet) away, was like seeing Christ. It was very emotional,” she said.
In Colombia’s Andean capital, Bogota, Eliecer Castellanos joined others praying at the colonial-era San Alfonso church. “We ask God that the pope get better,” said the 55-year-old security guard, but he added: “Only God’s will determines what will happen with him.”
'People want to have him close'
In Guatemala, which the pope visited three times, a shop around the corner from the Metropolitan Cathedral saw a boom in sales of postcards and other items with John Paul’s image, said shop manager Edgar Marroquin.
“People want to have him close, and they make altars in the bosom of their homes,” he said.
And in the Cuban capital, Havana, where the pope made a historic visit in 1998, Cardinal Jaime Ortega urged Catholics to ask God for the pope’s recovery and appealed to Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, to protect his life.
Concern spread beyond Catholics as well.
Gail Nemanic, 72, of Minneapolis, Minn., said she was a Lutheran, but accompanied a Catholic friend to Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe “especially because of the pope.”
“I don’t see him as a deity,” she said, “but I think he sends a good message to the world for peace.”