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Local clergy worships with pope

Several area priests visited Washington, D.C. last week to attend the Papal Mass at Nationals Park, among them the Rev. Bill McNeeley and the Rev. John O’Neill.

McNeeley is assisting priest at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Farragut; O’Neill is priest at Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa. They were two of nearly 2,000 clergy who participated by reciting parts of the mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

“The pope was celebrating the Mass, and … all the clergy participated with him by saying the Words of Initiation and Words of Consecration,” McNeeley said.

“All the priests join in and say in unison with the pope the Words of Consecration … it’s not like I was standing in the altar right next to him. That would be misleading.”

McNeeley and O’Neill also listened to confessions before the Mass.

“Monsignor [Phillip F. Thoni] and I were about 50 feet away when he went by in the pope-mobile,” McNeeley said.

More than 45,000 people attended Mass.

“To me, it was just an awesome experience to be there … to celebrate Mass together … it was a huge gathering but it wasn’t impersonal at all,” McNeeley said.

Everyone in the audience received the Eucharist, consecrated by the pope and administered by priests distributed throughout the audience.

According to McNeeley, the pope gave a homily that “talked a lot about the need for reconciliation among peoples and to bring down the walls that divide people and create inequalities,” McNeeley said.

“He talked quite a bit about America’s role of promoting freedom: freedom of self-determination in terms of government … and that those [ideals] are entirely consistent with Catholic principles.

“While the United States has played an instrumental role [in equality], it hasn’t lived that out perfectly,” he added.

“We need to learn tolerance and respect for human rights, which is entirely consistent with what the Catholic Church seeks to bring about in its own way … [The speech] was kind words to the United States and to Americans in our role in establishing freedom, but also a reminder that the job wasn’t complete, and still isn’t complete, in terms of discrimination,” McNeeley said.

ONeill said Pope Benedict was “continuing on a tradition of Pope John Paul II, who talked in a very profound way of human freedom. And true freedom is to follow or [to be] made for our ultimate


“We were truly made with incredible dignity, each one of us, from the moment of conception. We maintain that dignity by never harming or mistreating anybody else according to that dignity.

“We treat people according to freedom when we respect that reality about ourselves and about that other person,” he added.

McNeeley wanted to be clear about the kind of equality and peace the pope spoke of.

“The peace of God is an active force in the life of the church and the world. What many people think of as peace is actually human strife minus the violence. The peace the Catholic Church stands for is a peace that actually promotes justice, equality and the well-being of all people.”

McNeeley hopes people gain knowledge of this peace from Pope Benedict’s visit.

According to O’Neill, the pope also spoke of inter-religious dialogue and was unafraid to speak of “hot topics,” such as scandals within the Catholic Church and immigration.

“[The pope] strikes me as being a kind, gentle, holy man, but he is very unapologetic about his apologetics: ‘This is who we are; we love you, we want many of the same things as those we differ with, but this is who we are and this is what we stand for,’” McNeeley said.

“I think what everyone saw was that when you say the truth and you say it in love and full of grace, people hear us and they’re not so afraid to hear our more painful truths. And yes, there are very painful topics, but when said with such love and light, they are not so hard to hear,” O’Neill said.


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