Chris Brayshay attended a Mass at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, in Coulby Newham, Middlesbrough, last night.

THEY filed quietly into Mass - teenagers, the middle-aged, toddlers in pushchairs, frail pensioners leaning on sticks or pushed in wheelchairs.

Many came in cars, some on bicycles and others walked.

Blind people were guided by a friend at one hand, a white stick in the other.

No effort was too much. For 26 years, Pope John Paul II had been their holy father and now they wanted to keep faith with him, even at the end.

The mood of the congregation was subdued, of resignation perhaps, combined with an element of shock.

On Saturday they had prayed for a dying pope, many hoping for a miracle. Last night they returned to St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral to pray for the repose of the soul of the late head of their church.

About 500 of the faithful passed under the yellow and white papal flag emblazoned with the symbol of the keys of St Peter - and flying at half mast - to enter the cathedral.

There is always a 5pm Mass at the cathedral, but last night was different. The service was led not by a priest, but by the Right Reverend John Crowley, Bishop of Middlesbrough, aided by 11 priests. In place of the usual homily there was time for reflection instead.

The Pope liked to refer to Roman Catholics as the Easter People. He died just after the first masses for this Second Sunday of Easter were said on Saturday evening.

The readings had not been specially chosen. But the second reading, taken from Peter, said: "You did not see him, yet you loved him; and still without seeing him you are already filled with a joy so glorious, that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls."

Bishop John told the congregation the pontiff had been a gift from God.

And he posed the question: "If such is the gift, what must God be like, the giver of the gift? What Pope John Paul has done for us is give us a very clear window into what God is like."

The bidding prayers during the Mass were for the repose of the Pope's soul, and also for those who had perished in the earthquake in Asia, their relatives and rescue workers - and for those without faith.

Ray Mallon, the Mayor of Middlesbrough and a Roman Catholic, was one of those churchgoers who quietly took his seat.

He told The Northern Echo: "He was a great man, and unlike many popes before him changed the face of the world.

"As the years pass, he will be recognised as one of the greatest popes of all. He was probably the closest thing to a living saint."