MEXICO CITY - Crawling on their knees and bowing their heads, millions of faithful around the world appealed yesterday for the recovery - or the eternal rest - of a man who transcended the Roman Catholic Church's highest office.
At shrines, churches and cathedrals, Masses celebrated Pope John Paul II, both for his youthful vigor that transformed the church and for his recent courage in confronting death. Protestants, Muslims, Jews and even atheists praised a man whose work for peace and unity made few religious distinctions.
"There will be another pope, but it won't be the same," said a tearful Jesus Valencia, 29, who attributed his recovery from a childhood infection to a bedside visit from Pope John Paul in 1979. "He has a spark that makes him very special."
Valencia was among hundreds of faithful who advanced on their knees into the Basilica of Guadalupe, where the pope canonized the first Indian saint, Juan Diego, in 2002. Many wept and grimaced in pain as they inched forward on the cobblestones, clutching votive candles bearing Pope John Paul's image.
Other scenes of devotion came in a tiny cloister on the Lofoten Islands off northeastern Norway, where the three monks were intent in prayer. In Lima, Peru, where a marching band offered solemn music as hundreds filed into a Mass. In Poznan, Poland, where officials halted a soccer game before halftime after the crowd, hearing news of the pope's rapid decline, chanted: "Stop the match!"
"He is a person who didn't see color or race," Elvia Medina, 57, said at a church in Houston. "For him, we were all equal."
The first non-Italian pope in centuries, Pope John Paul had a manner that made people around the world think of him as their own. Mexicans chanted during his five visits: "Juan Pablo, brother, you are already Mexican!" Brazilians reacted with delight when Pope John Paul declared himself carioca, a term for people from Rio de Janeiro. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said yesterday that "in a certain sense, he was American."
In Wadowice, Poland - Karol Wojtyla's true hometown - people abandoned school and work to pray when the pope's condition turned critical. Wadowice is "on its knees," the Rev. Jakub Gil told parishioners.
"He gave people hope, strength and faith in freedom. Every Pole is proud of him," said ship mechanic Janusz Kaniewski, 42, who cut off a ski vacation to pray for the pope.
Even non-Catholics embraced Pope John Paul, crediting him with ending wars, spreading democracy and combating religious animosity.
"This is a person who dedicated his life to teaching all of us that we have a fundamental obligation to respect one another just because we are the children of God," said Michael Schudrich, an American who serves as Poland's chief rabbi.
Added Flavien Kiope, a teacher at a Catholic school in Kinshasa, Congo: "He is the first pope to have brought together Muslims, Hindus and worshipers of other religions."
Pope John Paul transformed the papacy from an arbiter of religious doctrine to a global advocate for peace, understanding and responsibility.
"He's been a moral voice, and in that sense I think the papacy and what it represents has an even more significant role in the world than it ever had before," Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, said in London.
Many Americans struggled to articulate their emotions yesterday as Pope John Paul II - who visited their country more than any other pontiff - clung to life at the Vatican.
"It's devastating. I can't even put into words what he's done for the world," said Valerie Jablonski, 39, of Delmar, N.Y.
Catholics, and some non-Catholics, converged at Masses to offer prayers, light candles and reminisce about a man who seemed - in many ways - one of them.
"For the American Catholic community, he was an extraordinary gift because, in a certain sense, he was American," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after a midday Mass in downtown Washington. "He was American. He enjoyed people, he had a good sense of humor, he was humble - all the things that America likes in its leaders."
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