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Bishop 'confident' in selection of future pope

| Monday, April 11, 2005

Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt isn't taking bets on who the next pope might be, but points out that "surprises can come out of the conclave."

"John Paul was relatively unknown. He was elected on the eighth ballot and look how the Lord has provided," he said after the second of two memorial services for the pope Sunday at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.

Brandt said he is "confident the conclave of cardinals will pick the right man," but added that the bar has been raised by John Paul.

"In a way, he was kind of a father figure. He provided a spiritual reference, a point of reference for people who had no place else to go," Brandt said. "He was an anchor."

The bishop said he truly believes John Paul will one day be named a saint.

Nearly two dozen religious leaders praised the pope, who was buried Friday, at an interfaith service Sunday afternoon. More than 20 clergy from the Greensburg diocese attended a second service last night to mark to the close of the period of mourning for the pope.

Among those participating in the interfaith service were: Rabbi Richard Rheins of Temple David in Monroeville; Dr. Hassan Bakri from the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh; Dr. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania; the Rev. Gene Stuckey, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Greensburg; the Rev. Tracy Mills of the First Christian Church in Greensburg; and Bishop Robert Duncan Jr., head of the Episcopal Church USA Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Calling John Paul a "universal pastor," Brandt said that as spiritual leaders "we encourage those in our care to reach out to our neighbors. All of these ministries are about building bridges."

The name pontiff means bridge builder, he said.

Brandt pledged that the "ecumenical interfaith outreach of John Paul II will be ... cherished and nurtured by us."

Rheins said John Paul was a man who "shepherded us ... bringing people together in peace."

Bakri called the pope "a gift from God to all of us."

He translated a passage from the Quran that read, in part, "How excellent is the reward for those who labor and are patient in their adversity."

In his homily, Brandt spoke of a pope who preached and practiced fearlessness. He reprimanded a U.S. president who supported abortion and one who went to war. He refused to hide from a long and debilitating illness.

"Teaching us all how to live and die in Christ," he said.

Mikail Gorbachev said everything that happened in eastern Europe in the last few years before the collapse of the Soviet empire would not have been possible without this pope, Brandt said.

"He was one of the great shapers of contemporary history," he said.

Brandt, who attended the pope's funeral in Rome, said a Nigerian civil servant spent the equivalent of a year's wages to get to the Vatican for the funeral.

"The pope is like the president of the world," the Nigerian explained.

Brandt recalled the words of an Iowa farmer during John Paul's 1979 visit to the United States.

"You've got a pope who knows how to pope," the farmer said to a member of the papal entourage.

Brandt called the ecumenical service "a time of fraternity, unity and prayer," and said the image of a Jew and a Muslim exchanging the sign of peace in a Catholic church was quite moving.

Kay Falkosky, of South Greensburg, went to the second service "because it was for the pope."

"He was a good pope," said Falkosky, who felt a kind of kinship to John Paul through her Polish heritage.

Brandt said the services "provided people a chance to express their sadness, be part of a greater whole. "

"A Mass like this gives people the opportunity to feel supported, buoyed up by friends and family," he said.

Brandt joked with reporters last night that he has no plans to try on papal vestments.

"I am extremely happy in Greensburg," he said, adding that he told the pope that during a visit to Rome last year.

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