Kobe Bryant stopped by his church hours before his death. His priest says he was 'certainly a man of faith'

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Former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant attends a promotional event organized by the sports brand Nike, for the inauguration of the infrastructure improvements of a local basketball playground at the Jean-Jaures sports hall “Le Quartier”, in Paris on October 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- A few hours before Kobe Bryant's life was cut short in a helicopter crash, the NBA legend went to church and prayed.

He visited Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California early Sunday morning ahead of the 7 a.m. mass, according to Father Steve Sallot.

"We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead," Sallot told KCBS/KCAL.

Bryant, 41, and his family were regulars at the Newport Beach church, praying along with hundreds of other parishioners during mass and never trying to attract attention to themselves.

He was quiet about his faith but "certainly a man of faith," Sallot recalled.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Bishop Timothy Freyer of the Diocese of Orange described Bryant as a "committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith."

"A longtime Orange County resident and parishioner in our Diocese, Kobe would frequently attend Mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ's Presence," the bishop said in the post.

It was minutes before the first Sunday mass, when Sallot crossed paths with Bryant. He had visited the prayer chapel and was on his way out when he briefly spoke with his priest.

"I was coming in the same door as he was going out, we called that the backhand of grace," the Sallot said, adding that they chatted about how someday Bryant wanted to receive the Catholic sacrament of confirmation.

Hours later, Bryant, his daughter Gianna, 13, and another six passengers died when a helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California. The pilot was also killed.

They were heading to a basketball game in Thousand Oaks, where the former NBA player was expected to coach and his daughter was expected to play.

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