[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
On the first Sunday in 26 years that the pope has failed to bestow his traditional weekly blessing, members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish remembered him in their prayers.
The congregation of hundreds sang in a soft melody, “Oh Lord, hear our prayer,” in response to a request “for those who exercise authority in the church and the sick, especially Pope John Paul II.”
Some parishioners express concern for the pope daily, but especially at Sunday Mass.
“I pray a few extra prayers for his holiness,” church member Charles Theberge said.
John Paul has been in the hospital since Thursday, when he underwent a tracheotomy. His doctors have advised him not to speak for several days, and an update on his health is scheduled for today.
Many local Roman Catholics are concerned about the pope’s health, particularly as it relates to his ability to lead. Paul Fell, parish director of liturgy and worship, said the pope's resignation is something that should be discussed, but it's not advocated that John Paul step down.
“Traditionally this has not happened, but as people live longer it might be something necessary to discuss,” he said. “For example, if the pope is in a coma and a decision needs to be made that only the pope can make, there could be a problem.”
Bill and Mary Groleau, visitors to the parish from Illinois, said that despite the pope’s health, he has been an effective leader and will have to be the one to decide whether to resign.
“I think, for the pope himself, he’ll make that decision when it is appropriate,” Bill Groleau said. “I don’t think that should be forced upon him. He’s always been lively enough or true enough to his faith to realize when the time will be.”
When the current papacy ends, church member Jim Lang said, the election of the next pope is in good hands.
“The church does not make knee-jerk reactions,” he said. “The decisions are made over months, years and even decades.”
Visiting church member Alice Bindbeutel from St. Louis attended Mass celebrated by the pope when he came to Missouri in 1999 and said she is impressed with his leadership and commitment to the value of human life. “He’s Christ’s vicar on Earth,” she said. “I think he’s been very strong and he certainly hasn’t backed down on anything, and a lot of people don’t like that about him. I think the modern world has changed, so they don’t go along with all of the things he believes in.”The pope’s health has affected parishioners of all ages. Marlena Szewczyk and other young Catholics who have known no other pope usually pray for his health every morning at Columbia Catholic School. Marlena, an eighth-grader at the school, said she hopes someone similar to John Paul II will be the next pope.
“Someone who can carry on what he’s done, basically someone who is just like him because he’s done a good job,” she said. “He’s not afraid to do the right thing.”
Across town at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, parishioners at the Hispanic Mass expressed similar gratitude for the pope’s service.
“I feel sad because the pope has been a very good pope,” parishioner Judith Lara said. “He has done good things, not just for Catholics, but around the world.”
Lara dismissed the idea that the pope should resign.
“I respect his decision to continue,” she said. “I think he’s trying to tell us he’ll continue to the end as God wants it.”
— Missourian reporter Heather R. Higgins contributed to this report.