(from New York) Our Lady Queen of Angels is the Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California, where Kobe Bryant went to pray and regularly attended Mass every Sunday, occasionally at the first 7 o’clock service. He went to Mass also on the Sunday before the accident in which he lost his life with his 13-year-old daughter and nine more people.
The retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star was not only an exceptional parquet floor talent and an outstanding baller, he was also a man of faith.
Many people were surprised by this private aspect of his superstar life, especially because during his youth there was no shortage of excess, yet Bryant had found in the parish of Our Lady Queen of Angels the sanctuary of his soul. A prayer service was offered yesterday by the parishioners, grieved by his premature demise and saddened for having lost forever “his smile and his humbleness.” This could be seen, in particular, when, as one of many fathers, he bought cupcakes for his daughters in the charity sales of the parish and was careful not to topple the sweets on the seat of the car that brought them home.
The superstar Bryant Kobe won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers with whom he played for 20 seasons, and wrote a 60-point heartbreaking farewell letter explaining the reasons for his retirement: this is what the faithful of the parish emotionally recall, along with his height, for which the parish priest or ministers not only had to raise their arms but also to stand on their tiptoes to reach him.
Flowers and candles continuously pouring into the churchyard are tokens of affection and prayer not only from those who shared the pews with him, but also from the thousands of fans who sprung up from their seats at every point scored in the opponent’s basket.
The prayer service held in the parish recalled this hidden aspect of a man of God admired for the coordination of his actions, for the poetry of his movements, for the exact calculation of his throws. When he left the parquet floor he rediscovered an intimate dimension within the walls of Our Lady Queen of Angels church that his fans would never fulfil, especially after the case of sexual assault on a woman in Colorado that nearly sent him to jail and severely tested his marriage.
Faith and the encounter with a priest were his anchor of salvation.
The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Msgr. Jose H. Gomez, tweeted an offering of prayers for him and his family. Bryant leaves behind his wife and three daughters. Msgr. Gomez, on an ad limina visit to the Pope, told CNS that the player was “a good Catholic and a good believer” and recalled a meeting with him after a practice match in which they had a long conversation. “We pray for the repose of his soul and that of his daughter, as we ask for closeness to the family,” the bishop concluded.
In the meantime, the causes of the accident are being investigated and it seems that bad weather and heavy fog restricted visibility and that special permission would have been needed to fly in those unfavourable conditions. Further developments are awaited, along with the official date of the funeral.