Cardinal Mahony of the archdiocese of Los Angeles was among those who had the opportunity to view the pontiff's body laying in state at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
"It was just a serenity about him that made all of us serene," Cardinal Mahony says. "It also evoked the deep spirituality."
It is a very different image of the Holy Father from the last few weeks, the cardinal notes, when the pope struggled even to breathe.
"When I saw his eyes closed, it reminded me of how often he was at prayer," he says. "It reminded me yesterday that he's eternally at prayer. It was just a wonderful moment."
People close to him say the late pope would spend as many as six or seven hours a day in prayer, something Cardinal Mahony notes most Americans are not particularly aware of.
He says, "Particularly in the United States where we're so prone to follow the clock and the school and duties and tasks. So we're not rooted as spiritually as he was."
Even though Pope John Paul II was an intellectual – he had several doctorate degrees - one of his greatest legacies is his spirituality, Cardinal Mahony says.
"There is a lot of talk about the Iron Curtain and all the other things of the world. Those are important," the cardinal says, "But he was a deeply spiritual man and called all of us to a life of prayer and wanted us to deepen our lives in Jesus Christ. I think that's probably his greatest legacy for me."
There was a surety about him from the standpoint that this was a man without ambiguities. While that may have been controversial for many Americans it gave clarity to.
"The fact that the primary message of Christ is unchanging," Cardinal Mahony says. "Pope John Paul II said we have to find a way to communicate that message to different areas of life in this world.
"His challenge was to remain faithful to the gospel but make it appealing. He did that with young people in an extraordinary way."