By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom New Mexico
Catholic priests in Clovis and Portales describe Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to the U.S. this week as a shepherd tending his flock while Ted Olmos of Clovis recalls the “awe” of seeing another pontiff, John Paul II, in 1987.
Following a visit to Ground Zero in New York City this morning and an expected stadium-packed Mass this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict XVI will board a plane for Rome, ending his high-profile, six-day, first visit to the U.S. as pope.
“The Pope spoke to the people’s hearts, and it was wonderful for the people of America. In spite of all the problems we’ve had in the church, it has been enlightening to have your faith renewed in the presence of the Vicar of Christ,” said Father Sotero Sena, a priest of 26 years who pastors at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Clovis.
“I had somebody tell me yesterday, ‘We can’t go to Rome, but he’s come to us,’ and that’s awesome!” Sena said.
Sena was among a Clovis group that saw the late Pope John Paul II in Phoenix in 1987, noting that he was only five people away from John Paul II but was unable to touch his hand. “I was so close. It was so awesome!” he said.
Sena also saw Pope John Paul II in Rome a couple of times.
Anthony Schroeder, a former district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization, and the current faithful navigator for the fourth degree K of C organization in Clovis, said he felt proud to watch his fellow “knights” provide an official salute to the Pope during a welcoming ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
“That was a huge honor,” said Schroeder, who went on to explain that the Knights organization contributes funds to special projects of the pope.
Schroeder, also a professor of Communication at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, said, “I think his efforts to talk to families and victims (in the church sex abuse scandal) was designed to let them know he is concerned and that he is sorry for what happened.
“This is definitely going to improve his image in the U.S. He really can’t remove what happened. He may help make those particular families feel a little better, but the issue and problem is still there.”
Schroeder said he thinks the visit is significant and that people will know him a little better now.
Father Jim McGowan, priest of St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Portales, is currently reading Pope Benedict XVI’s book, “On Conscience” and agrees with the messages Pope Benedict brought, including the Pope’s speaking out against relativism, the ideology that absolute truth cannot exist and all opinions are to be given equal weight. This often translates into blurred lines between what is considered good and evil.
“We need to develop our consciences,” McGowan said. “Many people do not consider the consequences of their actions.”
McGowan compared the Pope’s visit to church gospel readings the previous week about Christ as the shepherd of the flock.
“The gospel was about how the shepherd knows the voice of his flock and vice versa,” he said. “With the pontiff coming to the United States, it is like the shepherd helping bring back the ones who’ve wandered from the fold.”
Olmos, who is also a member of the Knights of Columbus in Clovis, having been the past navigator, or president, for his council, closely followed the Pope’s visit this past week and it made him think of his 1987 experience when he was within 10 feet of Pope John Paul II in Phoenix.
“It was quite an experience to be in the audience, to feel the enthusiasm and holiness of the Pope,” said Olmos, noting that his niece got a special blessing from John Paul II in Newark.
Olmos said the impact created by Pope Benedict XVI’s visit will depend on each individual. “For Catholics,” he said, “It will be more of a reminder to be prayerful and hopefully, bring some people back to the fold.”
He added, “I think he will bring an awareness to our faith, an awareness about a need to get back to the basic principles of our church, to attend the sacraments and put Christ back in our lives.”
Olmos, a Knights member for almost four decades and a retired school counselor, said he has had opportunities throughout his lifetime to see many famous people, including John F. Kennedy in 1963. When it came to seeing a pontiff, though, he said, “Seeing the Pope … I would compare it to the next best thing of seeing Christ … He is our Christ on earth. He follows in the line of Saint Peter.”