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Local priest says Vatican is still filled with visitors

April 28, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

VATICAN CITY - A steady line of people still moved through the crypt area below Saint Peter's Basilica this week, quietly and respectfully visiting the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

The Rev. Chris Moore, pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Halfway, described the scene in an e-mail interview with The Herald-Mail from Rome. He visited the late pope's tomb Tuesday.

"A few people were leaving flowers and other pieces of memorabilia, but they were removing them pretty quickly to honor the simplicity of his grave. People were very prayerful, and it was remarkable how silent everyone was ..."

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Moore has been in Rome since mid-January participating in the Continuing Theological Education Program at North American College. The study and prayer program allows priests to experience Rome for an extended period of time and helps them renew their commitment and vocation.

He'll return to the United States this month and be back at Saint Joseph on July 1.

To get to John Paul II's tomb, Moore said spectators must walk past the tombs of a number of other popes from centuries ago, as well as Paul VI and John Paul I, whom he remembers from his youth.

"John Paul II's tomb is very simple with just a raised slab of marble with his name inscribed in Latin and the dates of his service as Pope below," Moore said.

He said Rome is a little quieter in the weeks following John Paul II's death, but with the election of German Pope Benedict XVI, many Germans were in town for his Installation and First Audience.

"It's funny walking around the city, you used to hear a lot of Polish, and now instead, you hear a lot of German," he said.

Moore described the mood in Rome as festive. He said it appeared people were happy with the choice of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pontiff.

"Like myself, I think most people are waiting to see what he will do and how he will act," Moore said. "In many ways, I think he was chosen because of his closeness to John Paul II and because he is expected to carry on his traditions. But each man who sits in the Chair of Peter has a way of putting his own unique perspective on the role."

Moore said he has met Pope Benedict XVI several times while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and that he also attended the new pope's first General Audience on Wednesday.

"I was able to get a good ticket and a good seat, and he drove right past me twice on his way to the chair from which he delivered his address," Moore said. "What impresses me most about him is that he looks very friendly and happy. He always has a smile on his face and he looks genuinely interested in and happy to greet everyone."

Moore said the pope, in his speech at the General Audience, explained why he chose the name Benedict. Benedict XV was pope during World War I and tried to be a reconciler, Moore said.

"Benedict XVI picked that name because he wants to be a reconciler and a person who brings peace to all," he said.

As best as he could tell, Moore said Benedict XVI spoke his message in Italian, French, English, German, Polish and Spanish.

"He repeated the same message each time so that people from around the world could hear his message in their native tongue - that he was calling for unity and reconciliation," Moore said.

"This theme of reconciliation has come up several times in his talks. I think he really wants to bring unity to the churches and be much more open in dialogue with other denominations," Moore said. "This alone is a slight shift from his perceived attitudes when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

Moore also offered his personal thoughts about the new pope, including that he thought the cardinals made a good selection.

"In terms of what I am looking for from his pontificate, I don't have any specific demands," Moore said. "I don't think it will be a long pontificate since he is already 78 years old ... I don't think Benedict will have the outgoing personality that John Paul possessed, but that's not a requirement."

"My hopes would be that he, with the help of his advisors, sees the problems and challenges facing the church in the world today and provides personal leadership that helps make the church credible in terms of its responses to these challenges in light of the gospel message," Moore said. "That's not different than what any one of us is called to do - he just has a greater podium from which to speak."

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