Three Payson women were among those who had an opportunity to see Pope John Paul II in person before his health started its final decline.
Barbara Ganz, Judy Miller and Jan Parsons were on a Mediterranean cruise this past fall and participated in an excursion to Rome and Vatican City.
It was early November, the middle of the week, Miller said.
"We only saw him from a distance, holding an audience in St. Peter's Square," she said.
She said they were told he held an audience every Wednesday around lunch, and if the weather was good, it was held outside.
"We were all in awe of seeing him," Miller said.
Parsons, the only Catholic in the group, said she was especially enamored by the pilgrimage.
"Not only am I Catholic -- I'm Polish," Parsons said. "Karol Wojtyla -- Pope John Paul -- has been particularly special to me.
"During a recent visit to Rome, my traveling companions and I had the opportunity to see the pope, albeit from a distance, sitting in audience in front of the Vatican. I was amazed at his stamina, given his health problems and his ability to continue to bring the Word of God and the Works of Christ to people everywhere."
"Pope John Paul broke the mold. He changed the world," she said. "Not only did he play a part in bringing down communism, he transformed the church. He was a very visible pope, traveling to all parts of the world. He became the pope during the 70s, when a lot of Catholics were leaving the church. I personally liked his style and his message to ‘Be Not Afraid' in moving forward to do Christ's work on earth."
Catholic leaders remember pope
Bishop Gerald Kicanus of the Tucson diocese, of which Payson is a member, visited St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church this week and shared his memories of Pope John Paul II.
"I first met him in 1979," Kicanus said. "He had been chosen pope in 1978 and made his first visit to the United States in 1979. In May, I was selected to be principal of the Quigley Seminary South, in Chicago. The next month we learned the pope was going to visit our school. The security people were crazy for the next four months.
"When he came to the school, I invited him into the room -- he was very robust then ... He met with the bishops in the gymnasium and we had hoped he might visit with the students. His aide said it wasn't possible, they were running late ... The cardinal dragged him outside to the students, and he spent about half an hour with them. They gave him a soccer ball and he kicked it for them. He really loved young people."
The last time Kicanus saw the pope was last summer.
"He couldn't walk and could hardly talk, but he still welcomed you in and was still interested," he said.
In the past week, the bishop led three different celebrations for the pope at St. Augustus in Tucson. One was an interfaith celebration and included the iman of the Muslim church.
"It was beautiful," Kicanus said, "It was very moving to hear their accounts of how the Holy Father had tried to dialogue with all faiths."
Father John F. Emanuel of St. Philip only had the opportunity to see Pope John Paul II once, when he was part of a 12,000 member audience at Vatican City.
"I paid tribute to him last Sunday and I had to fight back the tears," the priest said. "He had a lot of charisma. He was the pope of the people."
Emanuel said whoever is chosen John Paul's successor will have big shoes to fill.
"Most of the cardinals have not been in conclave before," Kicanus said. "One of the things they will be doing is looking at what's needed for the life of the church. With the growing Islam influence, it will need to be a person who is comfortable with different faiths and different languages."
He said that whomever is chosen as John Paul's successor will most likely be a surprise, just as the choice of the Polish cardinal was in 1978.