Priests recount pope’s passing

The Associated Press

ST. ALBANS — Several Vermont priests have returned from the Vatican after paying their last respects to Pope John Paul II.

The Rev. Thomas Mosher of Woodstock and the Rev. Benedict Kiely, a pastor in Enosburg Falls, were among those to receive the pope's last blessing before he died. They also waited in line for hours to pay their last respects to the pope following his death.

“We arrived, dropped our bags at the hotel, and walked into St. Peter's Square,” Kiely said. “We received the pope's blessing and that was the last time the pope was seen in public before he died. It was an amazing start to the whole thing.”

They had planned the trip to Rome six months earlier as a pilgrimage.

The experience was emotional for Mosher, 52. “To be Catholic in Rome is like being one step below heaven, no matter what time of year,” he said. “But to be there for a major event like that is like being only a half-step below heaven.”

Mosher and Kiely were walking toward St. Peter's Square when the St. Peter's bell started to toll. Kiely said the bells could be ringing because the pope had passed away. “We ran into the square from there just in time to hear them announce that the pope had died,” Mosher said.

The same cardinal who made the announcement led the people in reciting the rosary. “Then what happened was even more amazing,” Mosher said. “While the bell kept tolling, people began singing. It was small groups, here and there.” They included German high school students and Polish pilgrims, singing hymns in their native languages.

People poured into the plaza as they learned of the pope's death. Mosher and Kiely left around midnight, although the singing continued through the night. “Even after we went to bed, we could hear the movement of people,” Mosher said. “I opened the window to look out, and we could hear people all through the night walking toward St. Peter's.”

Kiely said he stood in line for hours and saw the pontiff's body lying in state at about midnight. He said the experience was unforgettable.

“What was impressive was that a majority of the people were young,” he said.

Kiely said he was 18 when he first met the Pope, and that meeting was one of the reasons he became a priest.

“We're all very, very sad,” he said. “He was like a grandfather. I'll miss him very much.”