RENO - Priest Jacob Carazo remembers the time he received a blessing from Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. He has the photograph to prove it.
Carazo showed the photo to a reporter on Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in downtown Reno after the death of the 84-year-old pontiff.
"When I look at the photo, I see myself encountering a very holy man," said an emotional Carazo, who also served a mass with John Paul and saw him many other times while studying in Rome from 1998 to 2003.
"He truly defined being a father. Every person was precious to him, and he had a special love for those studying for the priesthood," Carazo said.
Carazo joined other Nevadans in mourning the death of John Paul, remembering him as a warm, loving man who embraced the poor, children and Hispanics.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised the pope's ability to show strength in the face of adversity, and said he hopes the world draws inspiration from his life.
"(He) was a man of amazing strength and courage, and his voice on behalf on peace and the world's poor and oppressed will be dearly missed," Reid said. "He was not only a spiritual leader for the world's Catholics, but a role model for people of all faiths."
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said John Paul gained first-hand knowledge of the terrors of tyranny and oppression because he was raised in Poland during the holocaust.
"(He) will be remembered in history for his quiet grace and for his strong leadership that helped foster peace and freedom in so many corners of our world," Gibbons said.
In Las Vegas, a memorial service is planned this week at the Guardian Angel Cathedral just off the Strip.
"We lost a great person, a person who had championed everything from human dignity to Solidarity (trade union movement in Poland). It's a tremendous loss," said priest Bede Wevita, spokesman for the Las Vegas Diocese.
To the north, church officials said a special service will be held in the Reno area to coincide with the pontiff's funeral. Details for both services were still pending.
"I'm sure that all Catholic churches in regular masses also will be remembering the Holy Father in a special way," said Vicar General George Wolf of the Reno Diocese.
Wolf recalled his two meetings with the pontiff at the Vatican - in 1998 and May 2004.
Last year, Wolf joined a group of about 35 bishops, including Phillip Straling of the Reno Diocese, at the meeting with John Paul. The pope had been suffering for years from Parkinson's disease.
"Six years ago, he was still walking and communicating readily," Wolf said. "The last time he wasn't talking as much. You really had to concentrate to understand him. But he was still very much on top of things for a man of 83 years."
Among other accomplishments, Wolf praised John Paul for his role in the fall of communism and for championing the rights of the poor.
"In his own way, he was a very good and gracious man who stood for a lot of right things," Wolf said. "No one individual in the world was seen or heard more from than him."
Parishioners at Reno's St. Thomas Aquinas hailed the pontiff for embracing Hispanics and children.
"Every time he spoke he said he loved Mexico," Antonio Horta said. "We hope the next pope takes the same way."
"He was so kind. To me, he's a saint," Gloria Castellanos said. "I like how he always encouraged young people."
Like other parishioners, Iveth Cruz-Hernandez said John Paul's death caused a profound sense of sadness.
"Let's hope the person who comes after him does a good job. He has big shoes to fill," Cruz-Hernandez said.