From a lengthy story today in the St. Louis Review on several locals who saw the Pope during his visit, these excerpts feature nuns from the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus and priests from the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest–including our own Father William Avis.

Locals who saw pope say experience was ‘awesome’

Sacred moments and precious memories combined to make Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington, D.C., and New York April 15-20 a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many who made the trip from the archdiocese.

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Up close
Among St. Louisans who got within a few feet of Pope Benedict were Sisters Maris Stella Ryder and Anna Maria Haycraft of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. They and fellow Sisters M. Immaculata Pouy and Eva-Maria Sebsebe went by bus with an archdiocesan-sponsored group to attend the Yankee Stadium Mass.

Sisters Maris Stella and Anna Maria managed to get seats in the second-to-last pew at the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral when the pope said Mass there April 19 for clergy, religious and seminarians. It was the perfect perch, since the Holy Father stopped before them briefly to kiss the crucifix and bless the people with holy water before processing further up the aisle.

“That was right before our very eyes,” Sister Maris Stella said, her own eyes bright at the thought.

“When we couldn’t see him anymore, we just stood up in the pews, and those behind us did, too. It was this incredible feeling of welcome and ‘the Holy Father’s here!’” The best word to describe the moment was “triumph,” she said.

Sister Maris Stella added she was deeply impressed by the pope’s humility and friendliness. At Mass’ end, he said he couldn’t believe he had this Petrine ministry despite his own faults and noted “how much he relies on our prayers. It was just such a genuine expression. That made the deepest impression on me.” Knowing of his great humility, “it just makes me want to pray for him more. I feel more connected with the Holy Father.”

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‘Tu es Petrus

Among those present at an April 19 Mass the Holy Father celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for clergy, religious and seminarians was Father William Avis, who was ordained last June in St. Louis for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

Joining Father Avis, now a vicar at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, was Father Matthew Talarico, who also was ordained in St. Louis last summer.

Father Avis noted that the Holy Father’s visit, and especially the Mass at St. Patrick’s, helped strengthen his faith in the universal Church.

“It helps us to get a much broader perspective on the mission of the whole Church and not to get completely absorbed by the somewhat limited perspective of our day-to-day operation,” said the priest, a native of Wisconsin.

“I was overjoyed to be in the presence of he who has fortified me in my faith and has strengthened me in my vocation to the priesthood and our institute.”

While Father Avis was in New York, Catholics at the oratory back home in St. Louis marked the occasion of the Holy Father’s U.S. visit with a Solemn Responsory that was sung at the conclusion of a morning High Mass April 20.

“Tu es Petrus (Thou Art Peter)” was composed by Nick Botkins, who joined the oratory in late January as director of sacred music. Working with him on the effort was Father Karl W. Lenhardt, rector of the oratory.

Describing it as a solemn type of closing hymn with a liturgical background, Father Lenhardt said the responsory was meant to be “a very fitting expression of the love, thankfulness and dedication of our Institute as of the faithful of St. Francis de Sales Oratory to their Supreme Shepherd.

“As not everyone had the chance to attend the Masses the Holy Father celebrated during his visit to the United States, it is important to unite ourselves in prayer with and for Pope Benedict XVI,” said Father Lenhardt.

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