Spingfield-Cape bishop recalls last conversation with pope

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Missouri Catholics won't have an official delegation at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, as had been expected.

The five bishops from the state had intended to attend the funeral but found that travel arrangements couldn't be made. Bishop John J. Leibrecht of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese had anticipated attending the service but couldn't make the necessary arrangements in time for the service.

The diocese will hold a special Mass for the pontiff at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Services will be at St. Mary's Cathedral in Cape Girardeau and at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield.

All Masses celebrated on Friday will also be in honor of the pope, who died Saturday.

Leibrecht recalled his last conversation with the holy father in November. All the bishops of the Midwest had gathered for a meeting in Rome with the pope. "We each had 10 minutes with him individually, and I really prize those 10 minutes," Leibrecht said.

During their conversation, the two spoke about ecumenical life and ecology. "He knows about the diocese," Leibrecht said. The pope's first question was about how life was in the Bible Belt and how the region's Catholics were getting along with their other Christian brothers and sisters. The second question was about how farms and ranchers were taking care of the land.

"He didn't ask a lot because he wanted us to do most of the talking," he said. "His voice was weak and raspy."

No matter the topic, the pope "thought about things in theological terms," Leibrecht said.

And lessons in theology and spiritual guidance are ones that Leibrecht is offering parishioners across the state as he answers questions about how the church moves forward now.

Even when he cast his vote in Tuesday's municipal elections, Leibrecht fielded questions about the papal election. "People just want to know how the process works. Many have expressed sympathy to me," he said.

Among Catholics, there is sense of pride for the work Pope John Paul II in bringing peace to the world, and for his efforts to meet people of other cultures.

"They are proud of the pope and what he stands for," Leibrecht said.

But there could be new priorities for the church when another pope is selected. The 117 cardinals who gather in the conclave will choose the next leader of the church after a 26-year legacy left by John Paul.

But Leibrecht said many of the diocese's Catholics know the process. "We are confident. Our faith teaches us that they are guided by the spirit. We have a good track record of wonderful men leading us."


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