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Welcome, Holy Father

Anticipation builds among diocesan clergy, faithful for pope's visit


CLIFTON - Parishioners in the Paterson Diocese are about to be part of history - next week Pope Benedict XVI will step foot in the United States for the first time as the leader of the Church April 15 - 20 to remind American Catholics that Jesus Christ is our hope.

The anticipation for the pope's visit is building in the diocese among all the faithful of all ages living in Sussex, Morris and Passaic counties. Many will be attending papal events or simply watching the events unfold live on national television. It is the first time in nine years that a pope has visited the United States - the last papal visit was made by Pope John Paul II to St. Louis in January 1999.

Closer to the hearts of Catholics living in the diocese is the fact that this will be the first visit of a pope to the tri-state area since Pope John Paul II's historical and unforgettable trip to the New Jersey-New York area almost 13 years ago.

For Joseph Duffy, executive secretary of diocesan Catholic Charities, the papal visit will be a reminder to all about the importance of love and charity to others. "I am thrilled that he is coming to the United States and that he's coming to the Northeast," he said. "It's an affirmation of the importance of the Church in America. I am especially pleased he is coming to bring a message about social justice and social service. His first encyclical ("Deus Caritas Est, " "God is Love") was on charity."

Duffy will participate in an especially unique honor. He will be present to greet the pope on the South Lawn of the White House during the Holy Father's meeting with the president April 16, along with Vito Gagliardi, a member of the board of trustees of Hope House in Dover, a diocesan Catholic Charities agency. "I'm just thrilled to be able to be in the presence of the pope and president," he said as he recalled it has been more 30 years since he went on a tour of the White House.

In addition, Duffy will have the privilege along with 500 Catholics from the diocese to attend the papal Mass at Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y., April 20.

Another excited attendee to the papal Mass will be Sister of Sorrowful Mother Thomasina Gebhard, director of the Partnership for Social Services, also an agency of diocesan Catholic Charities. Sister Gebhard, who was born in Germany, met Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The pope served as overseer of her order's assembly when Sister Gebhard was in Rome.

"I am very delighted and excited about the pope's visit. 'Christ Our Hope,' is his message and his spirit and prayerfulness is an example to us all - not just the Catholic Church," said Sister Gebhard, who also sees the pope bringing a message of peace to all people no matter what his or her faith is.

Sister Gebhard had the privilege to also be part of a papal greeting video produced by the diocesan communications office and CCM Communications, based at the diocesan Catholic Campus Ministry Center in Haledon. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invited the diocese to create a video that will be viewed as Catholics enter Yankee Stadium before the papal Mass. Sister Gebhard greeted the Holy Father in his native language of German.

Also in the video to offer her welcome to the pontiff is Filippini Sister Marie Antonelli, principal of Holy Spirit School in Pequannock. "It is such an exciting time for us. We are honored that the Holy Father is coming and that his health is good, allowing him to be here for us. He has such an influence in the entire world," said Sister Antonelli, who will be celebrating her 50th anniversary in religious life on April 20, the same day the pope will celebrate Mass in Yankee Stadium. "This is a great time and it the brings a reality to the Catholic Church in America. The fact that the Holy Father is going to be present in body, it becomes real. He's real and the Church is real," Sister Antonelli said.

As the principal of a school, Sister Antonelli is especially looking forward to the pope's message to the youth when he visits with them at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., April 19. "His message is going to be one of hope for the youth of America because they are the future of the Church. He is a hero and model of the time. If our young people are excited about this, they'll want to model him in their lives," she said.

Phil Russo, executive secretary of the diocesan office of evangelization, who has been coordinator for the different youth ministries in the diocese attending the youth rally, said, "An open event - especially of young people with the pope - is saying something to the world. It's going to be a joy-filled and energy packed event for the young people with the pope in a close setting that is usually not available."

Many priests of the diocese are also anticipating the pope's visit. Msgr. John Demkovich, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Passaic, who was in Rome in January for a meeting of the Propagation of the Faith workers, remarked how at the papal audience he saw hundreds of "very friendly, joyful people loving the Holy Father." Msgr. Demkovich said the pope "is relaxed and radiates peace and a genuine love of his calling. As he speaks, the listener senses that much prayer and the light of Jesus' Holy Spirit is guiding his words to us, the people of God."

Father Mark Olenowski, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Long Valley, feels optimistic and excited about the pope's visit to the United States. "It's a delight to have Pope Benedict, who is a scholar, carry on the mission of Christ. We live in exciting times that are challenging morally and culturally."

Like many priests in the diocese and throughout the country who will be present at the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium, Father Olenowski said, "It'll be a privilege to distribute the Eucharist in that capacity. I remember during the papal Mass at Giants Stadium with Pope John Paul II, there was an electricity in the air. You see the diversity of cultures among the faithful there as one - the Body of Christ."

Father Olenowski also believes the papal visit will be a catalyst to the American people. He said, "I am sure the visit will be a springboard to unite the United States in heart and mind with the pope's mission of Christ. It's a wonderful bonding as we celebrate and share together. It's just a privilege to have our leader among us and there is much enthusiasm."

Msgr. John Hart, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish and administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, both in Rockaway, is also looking forward to concelebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium with the pope. "The Holy Father is such a wonderful teacher and I am looking forward to hearing the message he has for the people of the United States," he said. "This is an opportunity for renewal and to grow in our love for Jesus."

Impressed by his speeches, Msgr. Hart said, "He is such a courageous man and exudes peace and joy. It's going to be exciting to be in his presence. For all the people in the tri-state area, this is a great event for the Church and a visible sign of the Church's unity."

At St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Stirling, Msgr. Patrick Brown, pastor, offered tickets to members of the parish community, among them Lisa Dorsi, who assists with religious education and is a lector and part-time sacristan.

"I said 'yes' [to the offer of a ticket]. I'm thrilled," said Dorsi, who attended the Mass with Pope John Paul II at Giants Stadium in 1995. "It was a rainy day but it was inspiring. It was a great experience to be among those who could be there.

An excited Dorsi also said she expects that the Yankee Stadium Mass will give her greater insight to Pope Benedict through the spiritual message he delivers at the liturgy.

"Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have different personalities but they have the same feeling that youth are important to the growth of the Church," Dorsi. "A papal Mass is such as special experience, because it's a part of history - our history [as U.S. Catholics] and their [the popes'] histories - their coming to America."

On April 20, Marguerite Slota of St. Thomas of Aquin Parish, Ogdensburg, will have attended Masses celebrated by three popes. She saw Pope Pius XII, whose papacy began 1939 and ended 1958. She remembers that Pope Pius was quiet, more reserved, and spoke in Italian. Slota also attended the Mass said by Pope John Paul II at Giants Stadium in 1995. Immediately upon hearing that Pope Benedict XVI was coming to the U.S., she placed her name on a list at St. Thomas.

"I'm delighted I'm going [to the Mass]," said Slota, who shares Pope Benedict's German heritage. "It's the greatest thing on earth - being in the pope's presence."

Like Dorsi, Slota also hopes the Yankee Stadium Mass proves to be a learning experience, giving her more insights about Pope Benedict, who "keeps a low profile."

[Contributing to this story was Michael Wojcik.]

Diocesan bus information released on papal event for youth, papal Mass at Yankee Stadium

Youth Rally
The Diocesan Office for Evangelization released the bus pick-up list for parish youth ministries and Catholic high schools in the diocese selected through a lottery to attend the Youth Rally with Pope Benedict XVI at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York April 19. All buses will leave at 8:30 a.m. from their locations.

The bus at the Paterson Diocesan Center, Clifton will bring youth from Mary Help of Christians Academy, North Haledon; Paterson Catholic High School, Paterson; DePaul Catholic High School, Wayne; St. Andrew the Apostle, Clifton; St. Anthony, Hawthorne, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Passaic, St. Mary, Passaic and St. Anthony, Paterson.

The bus at Pope John XXIII High School, Sparta will bring youth from Pope John XXIII High School, Sparta; St. Jude Hamburg; St. Francis de Sales, McAfee; St. Thomas the Apostle, Sandyston; Blessed Kateri Tekawitha, Sparta; St. John Vianney, Stockholm and St. Joseph, West Milford.

The bus at Bayley Ellard High School, Madison will bring youth from Academy of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station; Villa Walsh Academy, Morristown; St. Thomas More, Convent Station; St. Mark Evangelist, Long Valley; St. Vincent Martyr, Madison; St. Joseph, Mendham; St. Margaret of Scotland, Morristown; St. Ann, Parsippany and St. Peter the Apostle, Parsippany.

The bus at Morris Catholic High School, Denville will bring youth from Morris Catholic High School, Denville; Delbarton School, Morristown; St. Jude, Budd Lake; St. Simon, Green Pond; St. Michael, Netcong; St. Anthony, Passaic; Our Lady of Good Counsel, Pompton Plains; St. Cecilia, Rockaway and St. Therese, Succasunna.

Papal Mass
For those attending the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx April 20, tickets will be mailed to the diocesan center from the New York Archdiocese and then given to parishes to hand out to those selected through parishes. Parishioners are assigned to a specific bus based on their home address and bus information will available to parishes once the office receives the tickets.

Buses will be leaving from the following sites:

  • De Paul Catholic High School, Wayne, 8:30 a.m.
  • Bayley-Ellard campus, Madison, 8 a.m.
  • Pope John Paul XXIII High School, Sparta, 8 a.m.
  • Morris Catholic High School, Denville, 8:30 a.m.
  • Paterson Catholic High School, Paterson, 8 a.m.

For both events, tickets are non-transferable and parishioners will be required to show government issued photo identification. Students attending will be required to show student identification cards. It is recommended that parishioners do not bring backpacks or other large bags since all attendees will be searched by the U.S. Secret Service, the New York City Police Department and/or the Yonkers Police Department. Umbrellas will not be allowed and ponchos will be distributed in the event of rain.



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