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Cardinal Szoka offered blessing to the Holy Father
Edmund Cardinal Szoka served as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord. Below is an article by Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service recalling Cardinal Szoka's visit to Pope John Paul II's bedside on April 1... VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, called to Pope John Paul II's bedside April 1, offered his blessing to the pope who had made him a cardinal and called him to work at the Vatican. "I did not really think about it, I just did it," the cardinal, who heads the government of Vatican City State, told Catholic News Service April 2. "I give a blessing to a lot of people, and he was lying there so sick ...." Speaking while Pope John Paul was still alive, the cardinal said he trusts that the Holy Spirit will help the 117 cardinals who are eligible to enter the conclave and elect Pope John Paul's successor. Cardinal Szoka said the pope's personal secretary phoned him April 1 and asked him to come to the papal apartment; the cardinal arrived about 10 minutes later. "They took me right in to the pope, who was in bed, propped up with pillows, perfectly conscious, very alert, but he could not speak," the cardinal said. "I knelt next to the bed, kissed his hand and said some prayers," he said. "I gave him a blessing before I left and he made the sign of the cross," Cardinal Szoka said. "There were three doctors on the other side of the bed," he said. "It was very sad to see how labored his breathing was." Cardinal Szoka, a Polish-American and the former archbishop of Detroit, said he told the pope in Polish that he had celebrated Mass for him that morning and that he was praying for him. The 77-year-old cardinal said: "One thing about this pope was that he was far less formal than his predecessors. He invited bishops to lunch, he would wade into crowds. He loved to be with people, to see them, to touch them. My impression is that other popes were a lot more remote." Cardinal Szoka said "I really do not know" how the cardinals will choose a successor. "But we firmly believe it is the Holy Spirit who chooses. You never know what will happen. "It is going to be hard to follow this pope," he said. Despite all Pope John Paul did, Cardinal Szoka said, "in Europe and the United States, the number of practicing Catholics seems to have diminished. The big challenge facing the church is to bring them back to an active practice of the faith." "This pope did everything he could, but it is still a challenge that remains," he said.