Local pastor: Catholic leader’s trip will heighten interest in cause

The Rev. Clem Davis’ recent meeting with a group of local pastors from a mix of Protestant denominations demonstrated what he said he believes is the growing impact of Pope Francis. He’s shepherd of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, including about 4,200 attending weekly services that Davis often leads at Columbus’ St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, by far Bartholomew County’s largest faith body.

Davis merely mentioned something of the pope at his gathering of clergy: “and immediately everybody got quiet and their ears perked up.”

The longtime local Catholic pastor believes the pope’s planned visit to the United States: Washington, New York City and Philadelphia: late this month only will heighten that interest among Catholics and Protestants alike. He also believes it will intensify interest in some of Pope Francis’ prime topics: the poor, the marginalized, race relations, climate change and an array of other social justice issues.

The priest believes Pope Francis’ visibility in America will cause people to pay more attention to his message more than they might if he were speaking from St. Peter’s Square.

“The fact that he literally will be on our soil will give him center stage with many Americans,” Davis said, adding that he will watch televised coverage of the pope’s speech to Congress and also the United Nations.

Columbus’ Juan Carlos Ramirez and his wife, Gabriela, members of the local St. Bartholomew Church, will be among 17,000 people to see Pope Francis when he speaks Sept. 26 and 27 at the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The pair also saw the pope speak about “being a companion to the suffering” at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican when they visited Rome in November. The two lead evangelization efforts at St. Bartholomew.

The husband, a deacon candidate in the church, said he is most impressed that the leader understands that evangelization involves action.

“He’s testifying with his actions by how he treats the poor and the sick,” Juan Carlos Ramirez said.

Since becoming pope in March of 2013, Pope Francis has washed the feet of prisoners, held and kissed the deformed and disabled, and visited Latin American slums: and complimented those struggling families for holding fast to joy amid poverty.

Though the Ramirezes are part of the Latino population that expressed strong support for him when he was chosen from his native Argentina, they say ethnicity is hardly an issue among spiritual and world matters. About 41 percent of U.S. Catholics are Latino, up six percentage points since 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.

“As a Catholic, I don’t think we need to see each other as different groups : as Latino or anything else,” Juan Carlos Ramirez said. “It’s important to remember that we are a universal church.”

He mentioned that he expects Pope Francis to focus partly on everyone’s role to build and enrich the faith and reach others with God’s love.

“I think he will re-emphasize the fact that every single person is important,” he said. “And I think he will remind us that we need to take care of one another.”

Columbus’ Richard Rybicki and his wife, Rosemary, got tickets to the World Families Congress in Philadelphia recently, and were excited about making the trip by bus with friends from their former Catholic diocese in northwest Indiana. But Richard Rybicki recently broke his hip, and now will share his tickets with someone else.

“As a Catholic, I think it’s something sacred to meet your church leader,” Richard Rybicki said. “It would be a beautiful feeling to be there with him.”

He saw Pope John Paul II speak in Chicago in 1979 and remembers it as special. In fact, he compares John Paul II’s people-oriented personality with that of Pope Francis.

Kathy Davis-Shanks, director of adult faith formation at St. Bartholomew, originally had hoped to see the pope in Philadelphia until she had to shift plans. She said she loves him : and so do her grown children, ages 23 and 25.

“He’s still just so approachable,” Davis-Shanks said. “I mean, he went out to get his own glasses the other day. Isn’t that fun?”

The local Catholic parish

What: St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.

Where: 1306 27th St., Columbus.

Weekly attendance: About 4,200 at weekend Masses, making it Bartholomew County’s largest faith body.

Connection: Part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Education: Operates St. Bartholomew Catholic School on the church grounds.

Pope's U.S. itinerary

Sept. 22: Washington, D.C.

Arrival from Cuba at Joint Base Andrews

Sept. 23: Washington, D.C.

9:15 a.m. — Welcome ceremony and meeting with President Obama at the White House

11:30 a.m. — Midday prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew’s Cathedral

4:15 p.m. — Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Sept. 24: Washington, D.C., and New York City

9:20 a.m. — Address to Joint Meeting of the United States Congress

11:15 a.m. — Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

4 p.m. Depart from Joint Base Andrews

6:45 p.m. Evening prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City

Sept. 25: New York City

8:30 a.m. — Visit to the United Nations and address to the United Nations General Assembly

11:30 a.m. — Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center

4 p.m. — Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem

6 p.m. — Mass at Madison Square Garden

Sept. 26: Philadelphia

10:30 a.m. — Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia

4:45 p.m. — Visit to Independence Mall

7:30 p.m. — Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sept. 27: Philadelphia

9:15 a.m. — Meeting with bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary

11 a.m. — Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility

4 p.m. — Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.