Mass held to celebrate Pope Francis
By Claudia Mathis
and Pat Shea
Twice in one week, faithful gathered for special Masses celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception — the first in anticipation, the second in celebration, of a new pope.
On March 12, Bishop Cunningham commemorated at Mass the start of the cardinals’ conclave. During that homily, Bishop Cunningham led the congregation in prayer asking for guidance for those in Rome selecting the new pontiff and urging those in attendance to reestablish a stronger commitment to faith.
“All Catholics are called to enter spiritually into the Sistine Chapel with the cardinal electors,” stated Bishop Cunningham. “Within our hearts we are all in the Sistine Chapel to await, through the voting, the Lord’s indication of who the next pope should be. Let’s prepare our hearts during these days of Lent so that we can drink deeply from the abundant river of God’s grace when we renew our baptismal promises this coming Easter. And let’s be ready to profess [our] love and loyalty to the new Holy Father and recommit ourselves to our holy Catholic faith.”
Sheila Austin, a parishioner of St. James Church in Syracuse who attended the Mass on March 12, was elated at the prospect of a new pope.
“This is a very exciting time for our faith,” said Austin. “I am praying that the conclave will let the Holy Spirit guide them in choosing the right man as pope.”
Just two days later, Austin’s prayers, as well as those of the faithful around the world, seemed to have been answered.
“I know we didn’t expect to see each other again so soon,” quipped Bishop Cunningham on March 14, as he stood on the altar smiling at the congregation gathered for Mass. “Who would have thought that in just 48 hours we would be together again to celebrate a new pope?”
Bishop Cunningham also commented on the brevity of time in which the new pope was chosen, and relayed to the crowd that Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, wasn’t someone the media or news broadcasters considered as a main contender for the role of pontiff.
“The media didn’t think Cardinal Bergoglio was a top candidate, but the Holy Spirit, [working through] the actions of the 114 other cardinals, thought differently. We are grateful for the appointment,” said Bishop Cunningham, “and we are filled with joy, happiness and gratitude.”
Bishop Cunningham also urged those present to remember Saint Peter when thinking of Pope Francis.
“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build the Church,” proclaimed Bishop Cunningham from the gospel. “The new pope will take over the chair of Peter [which] represents the foundation of our Church.”
Tom Cunningham, a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Fairmount, was happy that he attended the March 14 Mass.
“There’s so much information out there right now, but the bishop made everything clear,” said Cunningham. “The bishop’s point was well-taken — Peter is the rock and the cornerstone of the church.”
Kristin Wolke, a parishioner at the Cathedral, had been following the news on the new pope and was impressed by his humility.
“He seems very humble,” stated Wolke, “especially when he chose the name of a 13th century saint, St. Francis of Assisi, who was also humble.”
Wolke said that she hopes Pope Francis will tackle the issue of child abuse. “There are a lot of unanswered questions and the issue needs to be addressed,” said Wolke. “I hope that he works to repair the damage to the Catholic Church.”
At the end of the Mass, the crowd chattered in excitement and offered their personal views on Pope Francis.
“I am so excited,” exclaimed Julie Hartenstein of Holy Family Parish. “I feel like I know him. He was my cardinal in the ‘Adopt a Cardinal’ program. I prayed for him so much and I learned a lot about him. I hope he continues to lead the Church as God and the Holy Spirit wishes.”
Tim Kallfelz, also of Holy Family Parish, agreed the cardinals’ choice for pope was a wise one.
“I love that gentleman [the pope],” said Kallfelz. “He is a great world leader and a wonderful Catholic. He will be a true blessing to our faith.”
Bill Howland from Sacred Heart Parish in Cicero shares in the joy that a new pope has been chosen but is cautiously optimistic about the future.
“I really don’t know much about him,” stated Howland. “ I think the conclave made their decision a little faster than we thought it would happen. I hope that Pope Francis will focus on bringing more Catholics back to the Church. We have lost so many people already. Maybe he can bring them back to their faith.”