April 25, 2008

Christ our Hope: Apostolic Journey to the United States 2008

‘Awesome’ and ‘electric’ among words pilgrims use for N.Y. Mass

By Mike Krokos

The words came easily for some. You could hear the emotion in other voices as they tried to put the experience into words.

“Awesome,” “electric” and “once in a lifetime” were among the phrases used by those who attended the April 20 Mass with Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Read the pope's homily here)

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis took time on April 21 to reflect on the experience. Here are some of their stories:

The Holy Father ‘on our soil’

It wasn’t the first time that Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel had been in the presence of a pope, but witnessing Pope Benedict XVI up close and personal in the United States left a lasting impression on him.

“Seeing him on our soil was more striking to me,” said Msgr. Schaedel, archdiocesan vicar general, who is also pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

Msgr. Schaedel concelebrated Mass with Pope Benedict XVI on April 19 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. He also concelebrated at the April 20 Mass at Yankee Stadium.

The Mass for priests and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the first Mass ever celebrated by a pope at the church, Msgr. Schaedel noted.

“It was just overwhelming to see the pope in our New York City in St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” said Msgr. Schaedel, who was an archdiocesan representative at the Mass with Benedictine Father Julian Peters, administrator pro-tem of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis.

Msgr. Schaedel said he believes the pope was moved by the support of the more than 2,200 priests and religious at the Mass, who gave the Holy Father several standing ovations.

“I thought he was really taken with the loving support of the priests and religious,” he said.

“Electric” was the word that Msgr. Schaedel used to describe the Mass on the following day at Yankee Stadium.

Though he laughed about having to vest for the liturgy in the Yankees’ batting cage, Msgr. Schaedel said there was a reverence during the entire Mass. But, he added, because of Pope Benedict’s presence, “before and after [the Mass], you’d think it was a rock star” that the crowd was cheering for.

The pope’s homily during that Yankee Stadium Mass resonated with his message during his entire visit, Msgr. Schaedel said.

“We all have to focus on Christ our hope,” he said.

The vicar general was also “very touched” by the prayer service that the Holy Father attended at Park East Synagogue in New York.

The encounter on April 18 marked the first time a pope has visited a Jewish place of worship in the United States, and it came a day before the start of the Jewish Passover.

“Catholics and Jews in New York have been friends for years,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “It was great to see that.”

A lasting impression

Joseph Rivelli, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, was also present at the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Seeing so much of the Church present in one place for the Mass left a lasting impression.

“You just looked around the crowd and you saw priests,” Rivelli said. “You saw seminarians. You saw deacons, bishops, bishops in wheelchairs. You saw nuns from all different orders. And you saw lay people from all different ethnicities.”

The universal nature of the Church was on display for him in a special way because he stayed in a guest house of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Newark, N.J., where men from across the country as well as Italy and Nigeria have come to serve the poor in that city.

In addition to emphasizing the ethnic expansiveness of the Church here and now, the Mass with the pope at Yankee Stadium also reminded Rivelli of generations of believers before and after him.

When Pope Benedict spoke warmly during his homily about his meeting the previous evening with youths at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., Rivelli thought of his own young children and their generation.

“We have to give them the hope and strength to persevere,” he said. “They are the next generation that is going to proclaim Christ. As a father, I feel that’s my vocation and I have to instill that in my children.”

In the short term, Rivelli looked forward to sharing his vivid memories with his family when he returned to Indianapolis.

“[Those memories] won’t ever leave me,” he said. “My Dad’s picking me up at the airport. He’s 81. He’s the same age as the pope. To be able to share with him my experience and then to share it with my family is just going to be incredible.”

A ‘surreal’ experience

The euphoria started the moment the popemobile and its occupants arrived.

And it continued as the vehicle slowly wove around Yankee Stadium.

Just ask Pat and Carrie O’Connor.

The couple, who are members of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, were among Hoosier residents who made the pilgrimage to New York for the April 20 Mass.

“It was surreal,” said Pat of the Mass.

“Knowing you were going through the same ritual [with Pope Benedict as the Mass celebrant], you hang on every word,” he said.

“Where we were sitting, it [the popemobile] slowly came around in front of us,” he said. “The pope got out and went into the dugout [to get vested]. Having that line of sight was incredible.

“The euphoria in the stadium, it was palpable,” Pat added. It was evident “the euphoria and affection that people had for him.”

Though the Mass was the highlight of the weekend, Pat also saw the pope’s motorcade on Friday and Saturday through the streets of New York.

“We stayed with my wife’s sister, and she lives right across the street from the [Park East] synagogue” that the pope visited, he said.

For Carrie, it was also exciting to see “the love I saw from everyone [at the Mass]. It was just utter joy.”

She added that she will remember two things from this once-in-a-lifetime experience: the roar of the crowd and chants of “Papa! Papa!” as the Holy Father entered Yankee Stadium and the release of the doves right before the Mass began.

Missing work for the pope

Missing a few days of work to see Pope Benedict XVI in New York was worth it.

At least it was for John and Kristina Racanelli.

The couple, who are members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, took vacation time to make their pilgrimage to New York.

“It was awesome. It was uplifting and inspirational the entire day,” said John, who is a pilot.

“What struck me was the energy of the crowd and how everybody was brought together through his [Pope Benedict’s] presence,” he said. “We all felt, as soon as he arrived, a shared joy and adoration.”

The look on the Holy Father’s face is something else etched in John’s memory.

“He had a peaceful, humble, loving smile on his face the whole time. It really warmed my heart.

“Also, the incredible sense of grace I got during the Eucharist. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before,” John said. “It was intense and overwhelming.”

His wife, Kristina, who is an engineer, said two things stuck out for her from the Mass: the excitement, enthusiasm and joyfulness of the crowd, and the sense that everyone was there together enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

She was also happy to hear the Holy Father, during his homily, encourage and affirm vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and call for the respect of all human life, especially the unborn.

“We were really touched by everything he said,” Kristina said, and by Pope Benedict’s joyful attitude, reverence and humility.

“You can see he is serving the Lord, and his whole attitude reflects that,” she said.

(Reporter Sean Gallagher contributed to this story.) †

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