Lowcountry residents say pope celebrated ‘unity of our diversity’

CHARLESTON — While people around the world continue to mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II, they are reminded of the impact that he had on the lives of millions across denominational and geographical lines.

Richard Todd, host of “The Morning Buzz” on News Talk 1250 WTMA in Charleston, saw the pope while a student at the University of South Carolina. Todd still cherishes the memory after all of these years. During the pope’s 1987 visit to Columbia, he met with several thousand students on the Horseshoe on the USC campus.

“The tickets were handed out like a lottery and were really hard to come by,” Todd said. “The security measures were extremely high. The Horseshoe was cordoned off, and we were all frisked prior to being allowed into that area.”

Todd recalled that there were close to 3,000 students gathered in the area, and he was fortunate enough to have been less than 15 feet from the podium where the pope was to stand.

“There was a certain buzz about the crowd; it was like we knew that we were about to be a part of something epic,” said Todd, a Southern Baptist. “When the pope walked out of (former USC president) James Holderman’s house, there was an incredible roar from the student body. The pope put his hands up and quieted the crowd, and he said something that I will never forget. He said, ‘It is good to be young, it is good to be young and a student, it is good to be young and a student at the University of South Carolina.’ ”

“It was so incredible that we were in the presence of the holiest man on earth, yet he seemed real,” Todd said. “He seemed like he could be your dad or your grandfather. I had so much respect for him after I saw him that day.”

The Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council and a Baptist minister, admired the pope.

“The Holy Father championed strong religious life. He was open to all people regardless of their religious background,” she said. “He showed us that we are all brothers and sisters if we are children of Christ. We can all stand as one big family. He affected everyone’s life either directly or indirectly through his mission of acceptance and love.”

The Rev. Joe Darby, senior pastor at Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, attended the Memorial Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist April 8. He attended the liturgy because he felt that the pope “had a wonderful spirit that transcended religion.”

“… That sense of fairness, unity and humanity cut across the lines of faith,” Rev. Brown said. “He celebrated the unity of our diversity and the diversity of our unity.”

Members of the Buddhist, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Protestant faiths attended the Mass. Rabbi Anthony D. Holz of Congregation Beth Elohim/Reform was present at the liturgy.

“Pope John Paul II was a remarkable human being,” he said. “He was a very important pope. He provided leadership in a number of directions: scholarly, in his principles, and with his courage. He was a genuinely warm human being who reached out in friendship, particularly to the Jewish community.”

Members of the Anglican community also celebrated the pope’s life with their Catholic brothers and sisters April 8. Bishop Dorsey Henderson of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina said the pope was always very gracious to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his efforts to unify the churches were real. He said Pope John Paul II was their pope too.

“I’m here because John Paul was papa to all of us, beyond the Catholic Church,” he said. “I’m here to express our own grief because he was pope to us, too.”

Bishop Henderson said the pontiff’s ability to touch people was due to his spiritual presence.

“It could only be apparent because it was authentic,” the bishop said. “When he was focused in prayer it was focus on God. When he talked to you, he was with you. He was being papa and he was being Christ.”

Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this story.