In his 40 years as a priest, the Rev. Raymond Thomas never had the occasion to celebrate the Mass he and other priests from the Ashtabula County Deanery celebrated Thursday evening.
The Mass was on the occasion of the Roman Catholic Church’s cardinals gathering to elect a pontiff as a result of the Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement rather than death.
“It is a Mass for the election of the pope and prayers for the cardinals,” said Thomas, describing the service that was held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Our Lady of Peace Parish.
Bishop George Murry of the Youngstown Diocese called upon the deaneries in the diocese to pray for the cardinals, who will hold a conclave to elect the new pontiff. Co-celebrants for the Mass at Mount Carmel were the Revs. Raymond Thomas and Ernesto Rodriguez of Our Lady of Peace; Philip Miller of St. Mary/St. Frances Cabrini in Conneaut; Matthew Albright of Our Lady of Victory in Andover; and Our Lady of Peace Deacon Richard Johnson.
For all of the co-celebrants, it was an historic moment, both in leadership and the direction the church is taking.
“I see a church in transition,” said Thomas in his homily, which was delivered to several dozen worshippers who came from across the county to sing, pray and listen to readings from the books of Isaiah, the Gospel according to John and Ephesians.
Thomas drew a parallel between the changes that the Roman Catholic Church is undergoing and the changes that Our Lady of Peace are working through as a result of the merger that brought three parishes into one and closed a mission. Thomas said that just as that merger required communication among the parishioners of each parish, the election of a pontiff will require the cardinals to get to know each other and seek discernment in choosing the church’s next leader, who will face many challenges.
“There is no doubt that the church faces many difficult days ahead,” Thomas said. Among the issues are sexual-abuse allegations, ethical matters in North American and Western Europe, financial scandals and matters relating to teaching and the spread of relativism.
Nevertheless, Thomas said the church as a whole is strong, with 1.2 billion members worldwide and even as the cardinals seek direction on the leadership question, Catholic Charities will continue to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways.
Thomas predicted that Benedict’s retirement will set a new precedent in an age where the pope must communicate as fluently with a mobile device as his predecessors did with a pen.
“We’re on the cusp of something new,” Thomas said.