Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Father Angelo Pochetti: Gathered in Washington DC to Welcome Pope Benedict XVI to America

WASHINGTON DC, -- The sounds of guitars, tambourines and drums filled Pennsylvania Avenue just west of the White House early April 16 as thousands of people gathered to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to America.

Led by an estimated 5,000 members of the Neocatechumenal Way from across the country, Catholic pilgrims gathered at sunrise at Lafayette Park before law enforcement officers cleared the square across from the White House for security reasons.

Jose Luis Rosario and his wife, Annerias Rosario, members of the Catholic spiritual renewal movement Neocatechumenal Way, were eager to see Pope Benedict. They made the trip from New York with their eight children.

"It's an opportunity not only to hear words of life but also that my children see what's important," Annerias Rosario said.

Pushing his twin 3-year-old sons in a stroller, Jose Luis Rosario said the pope is "the rock of the faith of the Christian."

Police dispatcher James McNally, 37, and his sister made the three-and-a-half-hour trip from Manahawkin, N.J., overnight for a chance to see the pope.

"He's the leader of my religion; to visually see him is something special," said McNally.

The banners from members of the Neocatechumenal Way showed pilgrims were from places such as Orlando, Fla.; Houston; Santa Anna, Calif.; Pottstown, Pa.; Chicago; and Bethesda, Md.

Father Angelo Pochetti, who works for the Neocatechumenal Way in New Jersey, said, "To be with him (Pope Benedict) is to be with the vicar of Christ.

"It is a sign of unity to show we are in communion with what the Catholic Church is preaching today," he said.

Amid the peaceful crowd, half a dozen protesters, one of whom said the group was from an evangelical church, held signs with anti-Catholic slogans calling the church and the pope devils. In what seemed like a silent debate, members of the Neocatechumenal Way surrounded the protesters, played music and danced. As the protesters left, the crowd applauded.

Michael Smith, an attorney from Glenelg, Md., said, "It's an affirmation of everything the church stands for when you see all these people out here and the different flags from around the world; it just underscores how diverse the church is."

His son, Jay, 11, and daughter, Aileen, 14, were happy to miss a day of school to see the pope.

"I think it's cool," Jay said. "He doesn't come a lot."

Jeanie Dunnington of Silver Spring, Md., said, "If I had a sign, it would say, 'lay participant'; there's a real need for the leadership of the (church) to understand the role the average person plays."

William Iwanicki, 90, of Silver Spring, said he thought he would never get to see a pope.

"At 90 years old, you don't get many chances," he said.

Joshua Gilmore, 9, was with his father, Dennis Gilmore. They made the trip to Washington from Albany, N.Y.

"It's a great time of my life to see him (the pope) pretty close. I'm hoping (Pope) Benedict has some plans to erase some of the shame that's been hurting this church; I know he's disgusted with it," Dennis Gilmore said, referring to priestly sexual abuse.

Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day, said: "We really want to let the pope know he needs to speak out more firmly against the war. He (the pope) appears to be associating very closely with the president who has been prosecuting this war. I hope he reminds the president that this is very, very wrong, that war and torture is sin."

Hennessy, from Vermont, was with about 20 to 25 others from Catholics United for an End to the War in Iraq and was to go to Iran April 17 as a citizen diplomat for Global Exchange.

Catholics United spokesman James Salt said the organization welcomed the pope's message of peace and was thanking him for his stance against war through their presence along Pennsylvania Avenue. Members held aloft two large banners calling for an end to the Iraq War and torture.

Elfriede Haus of Warren, Mich., is originally from the pope's native Germany.

Holding a handmade sign that wished the pope "Happy Birthday" in German, she said: "It gives us more self-esteem as German people to have a German pope. I hope he will help us raise our esteem. It makes us proud to be German."

Business executives left their office buildings and flooded the sidewalks in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the pope as he traveled from the White House to the papal nunciature. Several told CNS they weren't Catholic, but were just as excited as Catholics to see the pope in his popemobile. Crowds at the barricades along some parts of Pennsylvania Avenue were about 20 deep about one-half hour before the motorcade was to pass.

As the pope appeared down the road, the crowd, waving Vatican flags, cheered, clapped and lifted their cameras.

Five minutes after the pope passed at about 20 mph, Maria Henriquez, a native of the Dominican Republic who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said, "He is coming to do something as Jesus did, blessing all the people."

- By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service