Rev Mark is Deacon of the Clifton Diocese who left for a holiday in Rome last week. A short break, following the Easter celebrations in the Cathedral Church of SS Peter and Paul, Clifton, has turned out to be one of the most significant moments of my life. I arrived in Italy, to discover that Pope John Paul's II deteriorating health had taken a turn for the worse. There was a sense of doubt that he would recover this time as prayer requests, for the ailing Pontiff, were being transmitted to the world. My proximity to Rome left me with little choice but to change my holiday plans and join the thousands of people at St Peter's, praying for an end to the months of suffering the Pope has had to endure. News of his lucidness was relayed to the gathered crowds as were his words of thanks. On Saturday evening, the news of the Pope's death was received with great sadness. The atmosphere was very solemn: only the sound of muted sobbing broke the electric silence of the tens of thousands of people in prayer. The sense of awe was suffocating. At midnight, a Liturgy of the Word took place, reiterating the importance that Scripture and prayer plays in all stages of life. The sense of unity and celebration was signified in the prayerfulness of the service, only marred for me by chanting and clapping. Thankfully, it stopped at the end of the service when once again silence and an atmosphere of prayer descended over St Peter's. Sunday morning saw thousands making their way to St Peter's, to be close to the man who had lead them so courageously for the past 26 years. I attended the Mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The feelings of loss and sorrow could still be felt and was made very obvious by the thousands who gathered at the Basilica for Mass to celebrate his life and pray for the repose of his soul. Monday morning saw my return to St Peter's with the hope of gaining a glimpse of the man who had inspired so many lives through his faithfulness and commitment. Organisational skills were put to the test, as the authorities prepared for the thousands who would attend the transferral of the body of John Paul II from his private rooms to the Basilica of St Peter's, where it would remain in state until the funeral on Friday. As five o'clock approached, silence and calm once more descended as the procession began. Words can't really express what I was feeling at this time. Amid an air of solemnity and prayer the image of John Paul II's remains being carried shoulder high will remain with me forever. Memories of John Paul II from the public audiences, I have attended since the Jubilee Year, have been at the forefront of my mind this week; especially the chance meeting with the Pope just before he celebrated Mass for the workers - a real case of not speaking much Italian and being in the wrong place at the right time. I feel very blessed to have been in Rome during this special week and to have had the opportunity to join the millions who will pass through St Peter's to pay their last respects to John Paul. We have lost a truly remarkable man who has never failed to provide moral guidance to the world - however unpopular it has been. People may not agree totally with everything he has done, but they have to accept that he has had been an inspiration to many and shown that faith does have a part to play in today's world.
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