NEW YORK – As millions of Roman Catholics around the world pay their respects to Pope John Paul II (search), many are wondering — and worrying — about what the future will bring.
The pope's funeral will take place Friday in Rome. One week later, 116 cardinals will convene to choose his successor. The process of electing the next pontiff is a closely guarded secret, and the cardinals' final decision will determine the future of the church.
Members of the Hispanic community packed St. Patrick's Cathedral (search) in New York City for a Mass Monday evening. While they were there to say goodbye to John Paul, many found themselves reflecting on what they hope tomorrow will bring.
Johanna Monroy, an Ecuadorian student and bank teller who was born and raised in New York, said she was very interested — and somewhat concerned — to see who would come after the only pope she's ever known. She agreed with John Paul's unwavering stance of peace over war.
The 24-year-old said she hoped the next pope would "try to do the same thing as this one, especially with the [Iraq] war going on. ... We shouldn't just send out troops to invade to fulfill our government's needs."
Monday night's two-hour service, in Spanish, was officiated by Cardinal Edward Egan (search), leader of the New York Archdiocese. Congregants of all ages, races, ethnicities and countries of birth slowly filled the pews. The majority stayed for the whole service, though many came and went.
Candles flickered in the grand old cathedral. One man raised his hands to the altar when he sang and prayed. An elderly woman, her hair pulled back in a bun, her eyes tired, sat on the marble steps close to the ground for much of the two-hour service. A younger woman in red, her face glowing, sat next to her, touching a Mass card with the face of a smiling, much younger Pope John Paul on it.
After the service, people filed out of church. Some lingered.
"I liked him. He was a wonderful person. He loves justice," said Juan de Dios, 35, a speech therapist for the Spanish community who hails from Colombia and now lives in Queens, N.Y. "He told that children were the next generation and the future. We have to teach the children to have love for all people."
A cluster of women clamored for postcards of the pope at the gift shop near the cathedral entrance. At one point, the scene got so frenetic that the salesclerk behind the counter had to tell the crowd to wait their turn — or she'd close the shop. Others looked on at the scene.
"Maybe this person is 'insuperable,'" said de Dios, meaning "unconquerable" in Spanish. "The next pope must be better."
Asked whether he'd be following the selection process when it comes time, he said he'd be glued to the news every day.
"It is very secret and interesting," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Egan stood in a simple black priest's frock and collar on the steps of St. Patrick's and offered a few vague details on what it will be like to elect a new pope. He is part of the elite conclave of cardinals who will vote for the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The rooms in which each cardinal will be voting are going to be sparse, but with one picture on the wall and one desk, Egan said Tuesday.
"Don't think it's the Waldorf Astoria," the cardinal quipped. "It looks like a seminary room."
And as for what he is concerned about in finding the man who will follow Pope John Paul, Egan said, "the problem that's on most of my mind is vocations.
"I believe we need to have a very important move towards encouraging people to become religious and [by religious I mean] diocesan priests," he said. The best way to do that, Egan believes, is through education of the very young.
"I believe our Catholic schools are the biggest treasure of the city," he added, saying they were better even than the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "There's nothing like them."