Hours before he died Sunday, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant attended Mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California. His parish is now praying for his soul.
Holy Mass was offered Monday at the parish for the souls of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims of the January 26 helicopter crash that took their lives, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles.
NBC also reported that parishioners have gathered to pray the rosary for the Bryants, and for the other victims of the crash.
Parishioners said Bryant was a regular part of their parish community.
Heny Russell, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the parish, remembered that Bryant presented a bit of a challenge to her.
“When I give him communion I have to put my arm and feet up like that so I can reach him,” Russell said, demonstrating a stretch on the tip of her toes.
“They are very humble people, you know,” Russell told NBC of her fellow parishioners.
Kobe Bryant, 41, was the father of four. Gianna Bryant, 13, was an upcoming basketball player in her own right, who had said she hoped to play for the University of Connecticut. They were killed Sunday, along with seven other people, while en route via helicopter to a youth basketball tournament.
Bryant, his wife, and children, are reported to be regular parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish.
After his death was announced, Catholics reported their experiences of seeing Bryant at Sunday and weekday Mass in other parts of California, and other parts of the country. Some reported seeing him at Mass in their cities whenever the Los Angeles Lakers, the team for which Bryant played for 20 years, were in town.
Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram January 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.
“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”
“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.
After Bryant’s death was reported, but before news emerged that his daughter Gianna had also been killed, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted his condolences.
An auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Bishop Robert Barron, also tweeted his condolences.
Friends, I just learned of the shocking death of Kobe Bryant, the legendary basketball icon here in Los Angeles. We pray for the repose of his soul, along with the others killed in the helicopter crash. May the Lord grant them his mercy and welcome them into his heavenly kingdom. pic.twitter.com/3ngYRC0zZn
Bryant credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.
In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.
Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.
Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.
In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.
“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”
Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.
Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”
“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s Catholic faith is also reported to have helped the basketball superstar renew his marriage. His wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011.
But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.
“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.
“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”
Bryant’s longtime teammate and sometime rival, Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted Sunday that Bryant was “a family man.”
Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah. pic.twitter.com/BHBPN5Wq8V