Western Pa. Catholics 'in solidarity' with resigning Benedict XVI

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Agnes Hogg and other local Catholics said they connected with Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday through a traditional Catholic prayer.

Her parish, St. Therese of Lisieux in Munhall, said the Angelus prayer at the conclusion of Masses this weekend “in solidarity” with the pope.

“The Angelus is a beautiful prayer and ... to be in contact, more or less, through prayer with the pope is wonderful,” said Hogg, 89, of Munhall, a founding member of the parish.

Benedict, who will step down on Thursday, prayed the last Angelus of his pontificate on Sunday before a crowd that the Vatican estimated at more than 200,000. Large video screens were set up for those who could not get close enough to see the pope.

In a strong and clear voice, Benedict told the pilgrims, tourists and Romans in the square that God had called him to dedicate himself “even more to prayer and meditation,” which he will do in a monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.

“But this doesn't mean abandoning the church,” he said, as many in the crowd looked sad at his approaching departure. “On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”

Benedict, who succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005 and will turn 86 in April, stunned Catholics when he announced on Feb. 11 that he lacked the strength to fulfill his duties and would become the first pope in almost 600 years to resign.

“I think a lot of people will look at his last prayer as bittersweet,” said Darlene Fozard Weaver, an associate professor at Duquesne University and director of the Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. “A great number of Catholics will see it as sad, but it's hard not to feel excitement about what's to come.”

The pope has been in the hearts and minds of many local Catholics.

“We've been praying for him at every Mass, and I've been preaching about him in my homilies,” said the Rev. Terrence P. O'Connor, pastor at St. Therese.

“Awesome, very powerful,” said St. Therese parishioner Jill Callahan as she left the church.

Parishioners at St. James Parish in Sewickley said “special prayers for the pope and the cardinals who will pick his successor,” said the Rev. Thomas Burke, pastor.

At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Huntingdon, the Rev. Leonard Stoviak talked about the pope in his homilies this weekend and incorporated the Angelus prayer.

“It is a momentous event,” Stoviak said. “This is history.”

The Angelus tells of the incarnation of Christ and includes the congregation saying three Hail Marys.

Reciting the prayer they learned as children brought back fond memories for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners. Lois Woodcock, 86, recalled praying the Angelus as a youngster growing up in Turtle Creek.

“It was very nice,” said Woodcock, and made special by saying it in solidarity with the retiring pope.

The pope is leaving office with many American Catholics wanting change, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

Most American Catholics said the next pope should allow priests to marry, and 60 percent said he should come from a developing region such as South America, Asia or Africa.

At the same time, many Catholics said they appreciate the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. While about half of U.S. Catholics said the next pope should “move the church in new directions,” the other half said the new pope should “maintain the traditional positions of the church.”

Benedict drew large crowds during a visit to the United States five years ago — 46,000 for his first public Mass here as pope in Nationals Stadium in Washington, then 60,000 at Yankees Stadium in New York three days later.

On Wednesday, Benedict's final general audience will take place in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican said. He'll take one last ride in the popemobile around the square to greet the thousands of people expected to attend.

On Thursday, he'll personally greet all the cardinals in Rome — those who live there and those who have come in recent days. There will be no speech. He'll leave the Vatican shortly before 5 p.m. and be flown by helicopter to the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo.

The conclave of cardinals that will pick Benedict's successor will set a date to meet after he has left Rome, Vatican officials said.

Staff writer Joe Napsha contributed to this report. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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