By Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
Many in Portales who followed the teachings of John Paul II and the Catholic Church believe two things on the day of his death.
First, the pope is continuing his life in heaven. Second, their lives must continue on Earth.
Saturday services at St. Helen Catholic Church in Portales were full of members who viewed the pope’s passing as a sad event.
“Every religion — something’s just missing from them now,” said Alma Rodriguez of Portales. “He was a great man. He was with us 26 years.”
Rodriguez and others took time Saturday to remember all of the positive impacts he made on the world.
“What a responsibility he served with dignity and clarity and forthrightness,” said Tobin Hitt, the pastor at St. Helen.
John Paul II served as the pope for 26 years and was the only pope many of the church’s members knew. Rodriguez felt that John Paul II was a perfect example for whoever his successor may be.
“He knew every kind of language, he visited every nation,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s really good. He (associated) with everybody, not just certain people.”
Luis Davalos of Portales and his family had been prepared for the pope’s death in recent days, thanks to numerous reports on his failing health. Davalos said his family sees Saturday as “not death, but life to come” for John Paul II and that he had done his duty for God and the Catholic Church.
“He lived his life by example,” Davalos said. “Just because he’s the Catholic religious leader, it doesn’t excuse him from sickness or illness.”
New Mexico’s congressional representatives viewed John Paul II as one of the most influential leaders of the last few decades.
“He was an unwavering voice of peace and social justice, standing up for oppressed people in every corner of the globe,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman said in a release. “He was fearless in his drive to liberate those behind the Iron Curtain, and his activism was instrumental in the fall of communism.”
Rep. Tom Udall said John Paul II’s influence was “pervasive and powerful” across the world.
“He was always a strong ally of freedom, denouncing apartheid, opposing dictatorships,” Udall said in a statement, “and yet doing so in a way which would not increase the persecution of innocent people.”
Sen. Pete Domenici called the pope “a beacon for freedom and the sanctity of life” in a press release.
“I mourn the Pope’s death, but thank the Lord for putting this strong man in the papacy at a time when he could truly reshape the world,” Domenici said. “Pope John Paul II led a remarkable and blessed life, and we are all better for it.”
Back in Portales, Hitt felt the mission of churches like St. Helen should be unwavering, with attention primarily the state of the world and individual relationships with God.
“The church will always have a plan to come up with a leader,” Hitt said. “The Catholic Church has been doing this for 2,000 years. We’re going to have to pray that the best servant, the one most after God’s heart, serves.”