Welcoming pope with open arms: Locals say NYC visit is just what the country needs now
BY TRACY SIMMONS REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
In his first visit this month to the U.S., Pope Benedict XVI will find an American flock wrestling with what it means to be Roman Catholic. Lay people and priests have conflicting ideas on parish life. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)
Mary Gentile, of Waterbury, won't be traveling to New York City next weekend to attend Pope Benedict XVI's Mass at Yankee Stadium. But she's thrilled that he's coming.
On April 15 Pope Benedict XVI will fly into Andrews Air Force Base on his personal aircraft, Shepherd One, where he will be greeted by President George W. Bush. His first papal visit to the United States has been named "Christ our Hope" and is meant to send a message of faith, hope and love to the Catholic community, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"I'm very, very pleased about it and I feel he's coming close to home and Heaven knows we really need something like that," Gentile said. "Our country is in such a cesspool right now and I'm sure there's going to be an awful lot of young people attending, and maybe they'll be more aware."
She said she'll be watching the Mass on television, noting that she is fond of Pope Benedict and thinks he's following well in Pope John Paul II's footsteps.
However, studies have shown that not everyone favors the pontiff. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, together with the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found that one in five Americans have an adverse perception of Benedict. However, in the Catholic community, 89 percent are partial to him.
A group of 30 from Hartford County plan to protest the pope's visit when he arrives in D.C. on April 15.
"The peaceful protest will be in front of the White House," protestor Anthony Ramos said. "The protest will be against what the Catholic church calls celibacy."
He noted that the recent sexual abuse cases by priests needs to be dealt with by the pope.
Others dislike Pope Benedict because of comments he's made regarding the Islam faith, in which he said that the Prophet Mohammed had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. The Vatican later retracted the pontiff's statement and has since reached out to various faiths.
Local reaction, however, reveals high regard for the pope.
Oxford resident Christina Watkins said she feels some people are a bit leery about Pope Benedict because of his age. He will be 81 on April 16. "When Pope John XXIII was elected he was rather old and only lasted a few years," she said, noting "The Good Pope" who was elected in 1958 and died in 1963 at age 81.
But age hasn't proven to be much of a plight and she said she's happy with the job Benedict has done thus far."Benedict now has granted those who wish to return to the Latin Mass the full chance to do so," she said. "For this, we are grateful."
The Tridentine Mass, or Latin Rite, was replaced in the 1960s by English Masses, as well as other predominant languages.
According to The Washington Post, The Tridentine Mass was codified in 1570 and remained the common Roman Catholic liturgy for nearly four centuries, until church leaders known as the Second Vatican Council ushered in major changes from 1962 to 1965.
The Rev. Bill Considine of Lourdes in Litchfield lived in Rome for 12 years and has met both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
He remembers when Pope Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith whose mission is "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world."
Considine said Ratzinger would walk every day, with briefcase in hand, from his apartment on one side of the Vatican, across the piazza to his office on the other side.
"He would always smile at people, and when people would say 'hello' he would nod," Considine recalled.
When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, it was Ratzinger who presided at several of the Masses, including the funeral Mass. "He did it with a great dignity and a great power that really touched many people," said Considine, who considers Ratzinger to be a natural leader.
"When he was elected pope, at first many people were a little nervous," he said."But almost right away from his first sermon, what he showed was more like a shepherd. He's a much more shy man than Pope John Paul II but nevertheless he has a warmth and a real care that started to come through from the beginning."
John Paul II, the "people's pope" was extraordinary with massive assemblies, Considine added.
"He just connected with vast crowds but if you met him one on one, he was sort of a little distant, almost looking over your shoulder to the next person, whereas with Pope Benedict all his attention was right on you, with his eyes, with his questions, with the way he responded to you, it was very impressive," Considine said.
[Caption: New Milford author Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle was one of 260 people from 46 countries and five continents to serve as a delegate at the Pontifical Council for the laity's International Congress. She heard Pope Benedict speak twicwe while she was in Rome for the conference.]
Mary-Catherine McCarthy, 16, hasn't met Pope Benedict, but heard him speak in Rome earlier this year. She went to Rome with her mother, New Milford Author Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, and sat in the front row at his weekly general audience.
"It was pretty cool," McCarthy said. "It was just really awesome to be in a room with this man who is so holy and known around the world."
She said Pope Benedict spoke, with an accent, in several languages.
O'Boyle heard Pope Benedict speak twice while she was in Rome for the conference, "Woman and Man, the Humanum in its Entirety," once with her daughter and once when he addressed the congress attendees.
"At the time I didn't know what he was saying, it was in Italian, we were waiting for a translation and were all on the edges of our seats trying to take it all in," she said. "It was a very, very beautiful experience for me to be so close to who I consider the vicar of Christ, our shepherd in the Catholic faith."
She said Benedict is a humble, regal, serving man.
"He exudes that spirit of service and love and I believe he really lives the Gospel message. It's very apparent in just watching him," she said.
O'Boyle won't be traveling to New York City for any of the upcoming papal events, but said those who are going are in for treat.
"I think that it's just going to be an unforgettable day for them, they're always going to remember it," she said.
She saw Pope John Paul II in New York City in the 1970s and again in Rome in 1988.
"It's a very memorable experience when you see the Holy Father. It stays with you," she said. "They'll definitely be blessed by it. ...
"I believe that the grace from God will help them in their own journeys by being able to have met him and hear what he had to say."
She noted that people of all faiths loved John Paul, and she feels that people are still unsure about Benedict. "He's a very loving pope but people don't know him enough yet, they want to see what he's like," she said.
Pope Benedict will celebrate his third year as pope at Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 19.
Republican-American faith reporter Tracy Simmons will be covering Pope Benedict's visit to New York City April 18 through 20. For additional insight on the pope's visit, check out her blog at www.blogs.rep-am.com/pope; also, daily updates and multimedia presentations will be available at www.rep-am.com.