April 26, 2005

Student recalls visit to Pope's funeral

News of Pope John Paul II's death inspired an outpouring of grief around the globe and among the Catholic community on campus. Kinga Iwaniec, a fourth-year in the College, attended the late Pope's funeral in Vatican City and discussed her experience with the Maroon.

Iwaniec left for Europe on the Monday following the death of the Pope, and stayed until Thursday. She said that her parents arranged for her to make the trip along with her family and three Albertine Sisters. "Generally, it was open to the public. It was just a matter of how far someone would be from St. Peter's Basilica," she said. "I was fortunate to be in the first standing sector in St. Peter's Square during the funeral."

Iwaniec, originally from Poland, said that it was an "extraordinary feeling" to be at the funeral. "Although the people were overwhelmed with sorrow, they were grateful for all of Pope John Paul II's accomplishments, words, and amazing character," she said.

Watching the funeral left Iwaniec with her head bowed and disconsolate with sorrow. "Standing in the crowd, I was waiting, listening to the ringing bells, when suddenly everyone raised their heads, and so did I," she said. "It was John Paul II's coffin slowly being carried out of the basilica. I looked back on St. Peter's Square, and saw a sea of heads, as if it was a service celebrated by the Pope. Only the coffin reminded us that it was a service in Pope John Paul II's intention."

Iwaniec said that during the funeral, she and the vast majority of mourners prayed and cried as they bid a final farewell to the deceased Pope. "I was hoping we would never forget his words," she said. "During the homily and again while the coffin was carried back into the basilica, there was applause. Generally, the funeral was emotionally gripping."

Iwaniec said she thought her reaction to the funeral was not a unique one. "Perhaps all who mourned the loss of Pope John Paul II expressed their reactions differently; yet I feel that everyone felt the same. That is, the Pope gave his life in service and devotion to people around the world and now everyone gathered to honor this great man of God," she said.

Characterizing the general atmosphere as "quiet and mournful," Iwaniec observed that most people were in deep reflection as they prayed. After the mass, she reported, the crowd responded by either saying the Pope's name, "Giovanni Paolo II," or "thank you," to show their respect and gratitude for Pope John Paul II's legacy.