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To North End Catholics, pope's departure marks new chapter for church

Posted by Laura Gomez  February 21, 2013 05:29 PM

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Father Claude Scrima chuckled to himself as he stared at the photo of Pope Benedict XVI on his office wall and realized that soon he’ll have to fumble with the big, golden frame to replace it.

“The community impact will be minimal but he’s a tremendous man. He will surely be missed,” Scrima said.

The pope will step down and a cardinal will be selected to replace him at the end of this month, a step that many North End Catholics express little worry about. However, some residents said that rumors that the Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, could be a candidate for papal successor stirred the possibility of a more local impact. The Boston Globe, quoting a blog in the National Catholic Reporter, this week said the cardinal’s name had surfaced as a possible candidate.

“It won’t affect the neighborhood, but we’ll have to wait to see how it affects the church and it’ll be awhile until it reaches Boston,” said Patrick O’Malley, a North End resident.

As parishioners flooded in and out of the church’s doors during last week’s Ash Wednesday Mass, Father Scrima whispered hundreds of blessings.

“Turn away from sin and follow Jesus. Amen. God Bless you,” said Scrima, as he drew crosses of ash on the foreheads of members stopping into Saint Leonard Parish.

Settled into the corner of the historic Hanover and Prince Streets since 1873, Saint Leonard’s church is the first Roman Catholic church in New England built by Italian immigrants, according to the church's website. Since then, it has become a prominent congregation not only in the North End but in Boston.

After the initial shock of Pope Benedict’s resignation wore off, congregants said they were relieved the church’s strength was prioritized above tradition.

“He’s the first in a really long time to do this, it’s unheard of. But, you got to do what you go to do,” said Gisselt Fernandez.

Many community members said they felt unaffected by the pope’s resignation, although his departure may create long-term ripples for the church.

“You need to make room for more ideas. I give him credit, it doesn’t happen often,” said Lorrain Bacos.

Others hope the church doesn’t shift too far from tradition, as the church has come under the international spotlight in recent years for several controversies.

“No one has a right to tell the Catholics how to run their religion. Women have no place as priests, too many things are shifting from tradition,” said Jim Tuberosa.

The priest saw the pope’s leaving as yet another chapter for Catholics.

“Catholicism has taken many turns. It started with the Beatles’ first hit and we’ve just been rolling with them since,” Scrima said.

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