Pope Benedict will continue to bring blessings to the church, says bishop
Story and photos by Rebecca Drake
SPRINGFIELD – It’s the end of his papacy, but not the end of the blessings that Pope Benedict XVI will bring to the Catholic Church as “Pope Emeritus.”
This was the message shared by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell as he began the 12:10 Mass this afternoon at St. Michael’s Cathedral, here. An estimated 150 worshippers from throughout the diocese attended the Mass, which was offered for the intentions of the pope on the day of his historic resignation. Several dozen diocesan priests concelebrated the Mass with Bishop McDonnell.
Also in attendance at the special liturgy were the leadership teams of the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of St. Joseph, as well as women religious from several other communities and Rabbi Jerome Gurland, retired campus minister of Western New England University in Springfield.
Beginning his homily, Bishop McDonnell noted that nearly half of his own priesthood has been lived under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. “When I was a young priest,” he said, “we didn’t expect priests or bishops to retire. But we got used to that.”
“We didn’t expect popes to retire either,” he continued. “But we’ll get used to that, too.”
Bishop McDonnell praised Pope Benedict’s skills as a teacher and public speaker, referencing a quote from noted religion reporter John Allen, who has said, “People came to see Pope John Paul II; they come to hear Pope Benedict.”
And in his role as a retired pope, Bishop McDonnell said that Pope Benedict “will continue teaching us about who we are and what we can hope to be.”
The bishop read a lengthy excerpt from Pope Benedict’s final public address, in which the pope spoke urbi et orbi – “to the city and to the world,” expressing his thanks to God and to who have supported him throughout his papacy, and pledging to keep all people of the world close to him in prayer.
“Always the teacher, always a man of prayer,” Bishop McDonnell said, reflecting on the pope’s final address.
“In the beginning of his papacy, some called Pope Benedict ‘God’s Rottweiler,’” the bishop continued, “but we’ve learned he’s our gentle German shepherd.”
Bishop McDonnell reminded worshippers that all popes face difficulties in their ministry. “Even this pope is a frail human being, just like us,” he said. “No pope will be perfect but we pray that all will be as concerned about all God’s people, as was Benedict.”
“With faith and hope we look forward to the future … and we pray for the cardinals who will elect the next pope,” the bishop said. “It is in God’s hands and not in any human being that the church rests.”
Bishop McDonnell shared an anecdote about Pope John XXIII, who reportedly looked up at the crucifix on his office wall each evening after a long day’s work, saying, “You know it’s your church, Lord – I’m going to bed!”
“For Benedict, a time of rest will be a time of ongoing concern” for the worldwide church, Bishop McDonnell said. As worshippers in the cathedral began to applaud, the bishop concluded his homily, saying of Pope Benedict, “He truly has been the Holy Father to us all.”
John Barrett, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Cross Parish in Holyoke, said he felt it was important to attend the special liturgy to pray for Pope Benedict and for the next pope.
“I hope our new pope is as saintly as this one,” Barrett said, noting that he respected Pope Benedict’s decision to retire. “He did it for the good of the church.”
Barrett also agreed with Bishop McDonnell’s comment that the choice of the next pope is ultimately in the hands of God. “It’s God choice,” said Barrett. “God chose Peter and God will choose the next one.”
Speaking to iobserve before the Mass began, Jane Paquin, of St. Anne Parish in Chicopee, also praised Pope Benedict’s historic decision. “It’s okay. He’s getting frail, we should have a younger pope,” she said.
Paquin said she was not surprised by the number of people who turned out for the special Mass, saying that the papacy is very important to Catholics, “to keep us going in the right direction.”
Carolyn Sears, a parishioner of Holy Name Parish in Springfield, held her sleeping 2-year-old son, Gabriel, in her arms throughout the Mass. Speaking to iobserve after the liturgy, she said she appreciated the sense of community the Mass provided, especially the opportunity to pray together for Pope Benedict.
Sears said her personal prayer for the retiring pope is “a prayer for peace, for God’s will and his guidance, and thanksgiving for all (Pope Benedict) has done for us.”
Special segments on the papal resignation will be featured this weekend on “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evening at 7, and on the “Chalice of Salvation” Mass, which will air Sunday morning at 10, both on WWLP-22NEWS.