Editor’s Note: Reprinted with updates, with permission of the Orange County Register.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s death hit the Vatican just as Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann and his contingent were preparing to meet Pope Francis.
The local group was in Rome for a meeting called the Ad Limina, in which they deliver a five-year summary of their experiences in Orange County to the leaders of the Catholic Church.
Monsignor Stephen Doktorcyzk said he was speaking with an employee at a gift shop in Rome shortly after hearing the Kobe news.
“He talked about the pride Italians who follow basketball take in Kobe Bryant,” Monsignor Doktorcyzk said from Rome on Friday, Jan. 31. “He (Kobe) spent much of his childhood in a few regions in Italy, and that he could speak the language with fluency along with his undisputed skill at the game of basketball have resulted in not a few Italians taking great pride in his achievements and close association with their homeland.
“They are very sad that they lost a native son in such a tragic way.”
What followed were several prayers.
“The bishops and I have been praying for Kobe Bryant, his family and the other seven people from Orange County who lost their lives in the helicopter crash this past Sunday,” Msgnr. Doktorcyzk said. “He was an inspiration to many.”
Bishop Kevin Vann, who represents the Diocese of Orange, led a prayer for Bryant and the deceased after the morning Mass at St. John Lateran Basilica.
“We were grateful that we could spend time as Bishops from Southern California in praying for Kobe and the family and for those who perished in the Sunday helicopter crash, all of whom were from Orange County,” Bishop Vann said Friday,
On Facebook, Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, part of the O.C. contingent, said Bryant was a “committed Catholic” who “loved his faith.”
Bryant and his daughter Gianna; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton and pilot Ara Zobayan were killed Sunday morning.
Just a few hours later, Bishop Vann and the Orange County contingent met Pope Francis.
Vann said the Pope was especially pleased with the 2019 dedication of Christ Cathedral, which is now the home base of the Diocese of Orange. The Pope considered the dedication “a gift.”
“He thanked me specifically for that,” Bishop Vann said. “His meeting with us was a great sense of encouragement and the care of a father for us in our ministry.”
The Pope addressed the priests and seminarians in a separate meeting.
“He told us to always stay close to our bishop and to be men of prayer,” Monsignor Doktorcyzk said. “He was very fatherly and warm. That he would be so generous with his time is something that struck all of us who were present.”
Bishop Vann said there was a lot of interest in Orange County.
“Especially the growth and ethnic diversity,” he said.
Bishop Vann served as the point person during a discussion of the changing demographics of Orange County.
The bishop answered questions Friday as he was on his way to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.
The O.C. contingent also visited the tomb beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where the bones of St. Peter lie. Peter was the first Pope.
“It was very powerful,” Monsignor Doktocyzk said.