Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The bells chimed at the National Basilica yesterday and the black shroud over the doorway was replaced with gold-and-white bunting as Catholics gathered to celebrate the newly elected pope.

John Larocchia, a retired truck driver visiting from Queens, N.Y., had just emerged from Mass when he heard the bells and learned that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of Germany, was named successor to the late Pope John Paul II. The new pontiff will take the name Benedict XVI.

“It is great to have a pope,” said Mr. Larocchia, 71. “After John Paul died, it was like we were on a voyage without a captain. Now we have a captain for our mission.”

Sister Mary Dolora could hardly contain her emotions as she hurried into the church to say prayers of thanksgiving. “It is a great day of joy for us in the church,” she said. “We are rejoicing.”

A few feet away, 20-year-old Catholic University student Rachel Marrion sat cross-legged on the marble stairs, gazing up at the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“I just wanted to be near the basilica, to hear the bells and see the gold drapes being put up — just so I can remember,” she said. “It’s an exciting day.”

Most Catholics were eager to embrace the new pontiff as their spiritual leader, saying his selection was God’s will. However, some clergy hoping for reforms of Catholic doctrine were disappointed that a conservative theologian had been elected.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, who in 1999 was ordered by Cardinal Ratzinger to stop ministering to homosexuals in Mount Rainier, called the election “devastating.”

She said the new pontiff would likely stifle the voices within the church that call for more tolerance on social issues such as homosexuality. She also said he could stop the church from “moving into the 21st century and out of the Middle Ages.”

Still, many Catholics welcomed a pope who as cardinal supported such traditions as celebrating Mass in Latin and having priests take a vow of celibacy.

“God chooses people for moments in history, and this is a moment in history for which this man has been chosen,” said Monsignor William A. Kerr of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Northeast. He also said Cardinal Ratzinger would be a “strong leader.”

Alexandria resident Kenneth Wolfe, who met Cardinal Ratzinger in a 1998 visit to the Vatican as a member of a Gregorian Chant scola, also said the new pope is the ideal Catholic leader for the times.

He described the cardinal as being “reserved and friendly” when the two met in the street outside the Vatican.

“He was not all hugs and kisses, but that’s what you’d expect from the leader of the oldest and longest-standing organization in the world,” Mr. Wolfe said.

About 150 parishioners attended a special Mass of Thanksgiving for the new pope last night at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Northwest.

“In my body and in my heart, I am full of joy,” said Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, celebrating the Mass in the absence of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who had not yet returned from helping select the pope at the Vatican.

“I believe what is going to happen is what God wants to happen,” said Bishop Gonzalez. “What we need to discern is what God wants from us. The Spirit will guide the church in whatever way it wants to go.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Ed McHugh, an iron worker visiting from Allentown, Pa., stopped by the cathedral to kneel before the altar. He said he wanted to pay homage to Pope John Paul II and pray for the popular pontiff’s successor.

“He’s got big shoes to fill,” said Mr. McHugh, 57. “It is the hardest job in the world. [But] I’m sure he will be just what the church needs.”

• Tarron Lively contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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