TORONTO - About a thousand mourners flocked to a downtown cathedral Wednesday to pay tribute to Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, Toronto's ninth archbishop who will be remembered for his efforts to inspire young Catholics and immigrants.
Some 40 bishops and archbishops from across Canada along with family, dignitaries, parishioners and members of the public packed St. Michael's Cathedral for Ambrozic's funeral.
"We're going to miss him," said parishioner Leticia Msowoya. "Humble without end."
Ambrozic, who died Friday at age 81, came to Canada as a teenager, he and his family fleeing their native Slovenia during the Second World War and living for a time in Austrian refugee camps.
It was an experience that had a lasting impact.
"He was somebody who'd suffered the ravages of the Second World War," Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said after the mass. "He was a displaced person and with the stigma attached to that."
"For me, he represented what Toronto has become, a kind of a melting pot, a mosaic, a place where everybody lives together and he fostered that," Prendergast added.
Salome Mason, a church-goer for 36 years, said Ambrozic inspired youth, especially when he hosted World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. The event was the largest gathering of Catholic youth in Canadian history.
"I just wanted to be here today to pay my respects because he did a lot, not only for our faith, but also the people of Toronto and the youth especially," said Mason.
Ambrozic served as archbishop of Toronto from 1990 to 2006. He was a priest for 56 years and a bishop for 35. In January 1998, former pope John Paul nominated him as Cardinal, which allowed him to take part in the conclave of 2005 that elected Pope Benedict.
The line to get into the church Wednesday stretched around the block, and dignitaries in attendance included federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. Representatives from the Catholic Bishops of Slovenia and the Vatican also attended.
Ambrozic's mitre and cardinalatial ring were removed as mourners looked on his open coffin, which was then closed.
A message from Pope Benedict was read aloud in which the pontiff said he was deeply saddened to hear of Ambrozic's death and offered his "heartfelt condolences."
Some mourners said they had known Ambrozic's family for decades, including Peter Markes and his brother Andy. The cardinal had been a celebrant at their parents' funeral, they said.
"We always looked up to him as a very strong and stoic individual, always stayed true to his beliefs and the Catholic faith," said Peter Markes, who lives in Mississauga.
John Genorio's connection to Ambrozic went back decades.
"The cardinal and my father attended school together prior to the Second World War and he visited my parents over several occasions when we came to Canada later on," said Genorio.
Ambrozic was to be buried at Holy Cross cemetery, alongside other bishops.