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Carroll awaits papal visit to U.S.

Carroll awaits papal visit to U.S.
Pope Francis looks out from the Hill of the Cross in Holguin, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Francis traveled to Cuba's fourth-largest city, Holguin, to celebrate a Mass at the Plaza of the Revolution, and visit the pilgrimage site, before heading to Santiago de Cuba. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool) **Usable by LA and DC Only** (Alessandra Tarantino / AP)

Joe Taylor, a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg, said he is anxiously awaiting Pope Francis' visit to Washington, D.C. Tuesday as part of the religious leader's week-long stay in the U.S.

And not just because he'll be in attendance.

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The altar, chair and elevated pulpit the pope will use when celebrating Mass on Wednesday were co-designed by Taylor.

"I think it will be really neat to have the pope actually give Mass and use it because right now it's just ordinary furniture," the Eldersburg native said. "It's just now hitting me that [photographs] from that Mass will be used in national and international news and my furniture will be used in all those shots."

The 23-year-old graduate of the Catholic University of America entered a contest exclusively for students in April, and his team's design was selected, he said. The furniture now sits on the East Portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C., waiting for the pope to arrive.

"The unique thing about this is once the altar is used it will permanently be moved to the Basilica to be used as the altar," Taylor said.

For those of Catholic faith in Carroll, the visit by Francis is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the leader of the worldwide Catholic church in the flesh.

But Catholic leaders in Carroll, those of other denominations and experts on Catholicism say the pope's visit could serve to unify people with faith — and those without — due to his uncommon style.

"He has not taught anything different," said Dr. David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary's College in nearby Emmitsburg. "Above all, [Pope] Francis is attractive because he appears to be loving and forgiving. You can't overestimate how important that is. Francis is a man of the people."

Dr. William Collinge, another professor of theology at Mount St. Mary's, said Francis differs from past popes, especially Benedict XVI, in that he is less concerned with narrowly defining the boundaries of Catholicism and more interested in "opening it up to the world." This has enabled him to attract a non-Catholic following, Collinge said.

And while he shares many traits in common with Pope John Paul II, such as a strong desire to be a leader on the world scene, John Paul II wanted to "strengthen a sense of identity" for believers, which meant drawing lines that separated himself from those without faith, Collinge said.

"[People] like the sense that there is a pope that cares about their lives and interests," he said. "He doesn't expect you to be following the rules before he reaches out to you. His welcoming and open personality is not raising barriers. I think it's the outreach, the efforts to draw people in that lets the barrier down."

The Rev. Dr. Bill Brown, of Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Eldersburg, said he visited Rome in 2007 after Benedict, predecessor to Francis, had been elected. Though not a Catholic, Brown said there is a different feeling surrounding Francis' time as pontiff, something that has been missing in recent years.

"The feeling at the time was a lot different than what I'm sensing with Francis and his approachability and his concern for the poor and the oppressed," Brown said. "It really mirrors the same concern that Jesus had."

During the Holy Thursday Mass in April, Francis celebrated the day by washing the feet of 12 inmates at a prison in Rome.

"Seeing him wash the feet of prisoners... sets a model for the church whether you're a Roman Catholic or Protestant," Brown said. "He is actually modeling what Jesus taught rather than just talk about it."

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The Rev. Neville O'Donohue of St. Joseph Catholic Community said Francis' evangelical style is in part a result of a paradigm shift in the 1960s regarding the way the Catholic church saw itself and how it interacted with the world.

The Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII from 1962-1965, redefined the church's role in worldwide religious and moral matters, and set the precedent for Francis' visit to the U.S., O'Donohue said.

"So the spirit of the [Second Vatican Council] changed the church and with it the Pope has traveled more," he said. "The U.S. church is an important church, a strong church and a generous church and the papacy has always been interested in being connected to the U.S. church."

The Rev. Michael Roach, of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church, said Francis is building on this precedent by attempting to extend the church's influence to issues often seen as outside the purview of the church.

"Change is on the part of the Vatican by bringing the good news to the people rather than wait for them to come to the sanctuary," Roach said. "Because of his great heart, people are giving Catholicism a second glance and aren't dismissing it."

Since being elected, Francis has taken somewhat liberal stances on several political issues — global warming, capitalism, immigration, among others — that is at odds with Congressional Republicans in the U.S.

The Catholic church's doctrine recognizes the pope as infallible when it comes to matters of faith and morality, Cloutier said. The real question is to what extent a political question is also a matter of faith and morality, he said.

"Some aren't, but other political questions do seem to involve some moral judgment," Cloutier said. "All politicians agree on this, but grant it on different issues. He will be proposing the moral imperative for people to work together and leave it to leaders to find the best way to make it work."

O'Donohue said when Francis speaks to Congress Thursday, it won't be a political commentary, but a moral and religious perspective on how these issues should be resolved.

In a hominy given in Cuba over the weekend, Francis urged — even challenged — people not to see faith as simply following an ideology but as an impetus to serve others, O'Donohue said.

"In light of that, he might say the same thing to the U.S. regarding its culture and [economic] market: it should serve people," he said. "Now, [lawmakers] might have to work out what that means but he is providing a principal."

Collinge said he would be surprised if the Pope spoke on any issue if it did not have a moral dimension.

"What he wants to do is advise and inspire," he said. "It's going to be hard to know, but he will most likely take a broad approach and will talk about basic principles. The closer he gets to particulars, the less clout and authority a statement tends to have from the pope because these things involve a lot of circumstances that aren't religious."

Brown said the issues the pope has taken a stance on are indeed part of the realm of faith, and all denominations should be concerned with how they these issues are resolved.

"Care for creation, love for one another: those are pastoral concerns before they are political concerns," Brown said.

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It may be impossible for Francis to sidestep opposition from the GOP, O'Donohue said. But then again, not all of his views are in line with a liberal way of thinking, he said.

"When somebody with the perspective the pope has speaks, there will be a challenge," O'Donohue said. "Many political people will be concerned on his economic thought or his thoughts on the environment, so this might upset one section of people but his disagreement with abortion and other social issues which are supported more strongly by another political side may be equally unsettling.

"Maybe a little discomfort will just be part of the visit."

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