by luke eggleston
SUN staff writer
Pope Benedict XVI concluded his first visit to the U.S. by celebrating Mass in front of 57,000 people at Yankees Stadium in the Bronx on Sunday, April 20.
Several busloads of Catholics from the Syracuse Diocese had an opportunity to participate in the Mass and all were awed by the presence and words of the Holy Father.
“I could feel his love, I could feel the love he has for mankind and I just feel so blessed to have been there and to be there with the clergy and, of course, the pope,” said Carol Higgs, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Verona.
Along with Bishop James Moynihan, seven priests from the Syracuse Diocese attended the Mass: Father Joseph Clemente of St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse; Father John Canorro of St. Anne, Mother of Mary in Mexico; Father Gregory Golyzniak of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; Father Joe O’Connor, director of the diocesan Office for Vocations Promotion; Father James Serowik of St. Joseph’s in Endicott; Father Tom Ward of Immaculate Conception in Greene; and Father Andrew Baranski, secretary to the bishop and assistant chancellor of the diocese.
Another Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner, Patrick Collins, was given a chance to serve as a bus captain for a group leaving from Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Utica; he was eager to volunteer.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “When I was given the opportunity, I jumped at it.”
Collins said that the pope’s enthusiasm in the stadium was palpable. He added that the youth in the crowd seemed particularly engaged with the presence of the pontiff.
“It was completely awesome,” he said. “You could just feel the energy he brought with him. You could feel it throughout the stadium, especially among the young people.”
Collins added that the pope’s homily indicated he had a finger on the pulse of the church and that he is steering it in the right direction.
“He does seem to know the overall feeling of the church and he knows what’s best for it,” Collins said.
Regina Harty said that roughly a decade ago she felt a “strong faith conversion.” Ever since then, being in the presence of the Holy Father has “been an exciting dream.” In 2000, she became the director of religious education at Christ the King Parish in Liverpool.
During the bus trip to the stadium, in order to pass the time, Harty and fellow travelers were stringing together wooden crosses the young people in her confirmation class had hand-painted for themselves and their sponsors. While they were working, it came to Harty that they could return with the crosses having received the apostolic blessing.
“It was pretty special,” said Harty, whose class will be confirmed Thursday, April 24.
Harty echoed the sentiments of other attendees when she noted the compassion radiated by the Holy Father.
“It was incredible,” she said. “He would stand and look at the people and bless the people and there was just a warm feeling to him, there was a gentleness to him.”
Simply being among the immense crowd was an inspiration for Harty.
“It was tremendous to see all of these people who believe as you do and are singing and praying with you,” she said.
Along with Harty, Frederick Furtek, a parishioner at St. Augustine’s in Baldwinsville, volunteered as a bus captain for a group that departed from Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School in East Syracuse.
Furtek said that the pope’s warmth was reflected equally by those gathered in the stadium.
“There seemed to be genuine affection in the stadium,” Furtek said, adding that the pope offered a compassionate yet commanding presence. “It was very impressive. He’s a leader and he has charisma. His voice is soft yet he makes you want to listen to him.”
For Furtek, the experience was the culmination of a lifelong aspiration to see the pope.
“It was something that I wanted to do and it was uplifting to hear Mass celebrated by the leader of the church,” he said.
Barb and Patrick Canale of Holy Cross in DeWitt attended the rally with their two daughters Juliana, 17, and Andrea, 15.
Barb Canale, who was present at an event featuring the late Pope John Paul II five years ago in Rome, said that the experience was tremendous.
“It was just an awesome experience to hear so many people pray in unison and to be gathered with so many spiritual people who were there to hear the words of the leader of our church,” she said.
Canale noted that the event was particularly encouraging to her daughters.
“[The message] seemed to be directed to the youth,” she said. “[They came away from the Mass feeling that] the future of the church is on them to be involved in helping the poor and so on.”
Canale said that although her children are already very involved in the church, the event inspired them to become even more active.