Local parish leaders speak on significance of rare papal visit U.S.


Ramon Espinosa | AP Pope Francis speaks with Cuba’s President Raul Castro during his arrival ceremony at the airport in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 19. Pope Francis is visiting the Americas on a 10-day trip, his first to the onetime Cold War foes after helping to nudge forward their historic rapprochement.


Ramon Espinosa | AP Pope Francis speaks with Cuba’s President Raul Castro during his arrival ceremony at the airport in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 19. Pope Francis is visiting the Americas on a 10-day trip, his first to the onetime Cold War foes after helping to nudge forward their historic rapprochement.

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Ramon Espinosa | AP Pope Francis speaks with Cuba’s President Raul Castro during his arrival ceremony at the airport in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 19. Pope Francis is visiting the Americas on a 10-day trip, his first to the onetime Cold War foes after helping to nudge forward their historic rapprochement.

Pope Francis is arriving in the U.S. at 4 p.m. today and is only the fourth pope to ever visit America.

His six-day trip begins in Washington, D.C. and ends Sunday in Philadelphia.

The last pope to visit the United States was Pope Benedict XVI in April 2008. He visited Washington and New York.

The Rev. Michael Denk of St. Joseph Parish in Amherst, the Rev. Robert Cole of Sacred Heart in Oberlin, and the Rev. James Reymann of St. Patrick’s in Wellington all agreed that the papal visit is a huge event for our country.

Denk will travel to Philadelphia this weekend to see Pope Francis before he leaves for Rome.

“I’m very excited,” Denk said. “It’s pretty significant that he’s coming to meet with the president and then New York and Philadelphia. I know it’s going to have an impact on me and allow me to be a more loving, merciful priest.”

He anticipates people from all over the country and world will be driving to catch a glimpse of the pope.

Cole said the rare papal visit is like the shepherd tending his flock. He believes Pope Francis will come bearing a message for the waiting world.

“I think he’s going to come to our shore not to tell people what to think but what to think about,” he said. “I think we should listen to what he says no matter if you’re part of the faith or not.”

Denk said he has had people who are not Catholic tell him they love Pope Francis.

“I think he’s a real gift to the church and whole world,” Reymann said, echoing those sentiments. “This new pope has caused a lot of enthusiasm for the church again.”

It is unclear what Pope Francis will speak on during his visit but Reymann, Denk, and Cole believe he will highlight the Holy Year of Mercy, bringing people back into the church, helping the poor, and fostering strong family bonds.

The pope is calling for a special Holy Year of Mercy from December 2015 through November 2016. It is a time to call Catholics to reach out to those in need and provide help.

Pope Francis wants everyone to be aware of the people who are poor and help them, Denk said. “He really embraces the outcasts and he’s calling us to do that as well.”

He plans to share photos and his experience to Philadelphia on social media so parishioners who cannot make the trip feel like they are there.

Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.

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