AVE MARIA — A day before Pope Benedict XVI becomes the first pope to step down in six centuries, hundreds of people gathered to pray for Benedict XVI in Ave Maria.
Illuminated by sunlight, more than 200 people filled the pews Wednesday morning at the 27,000-square-foot Ave Maria Oratory for a Latin and English Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI.
Ave Maria University plans to honor the pope for his legacy of service through a series of events.
The Rev. Robert McTeigue said Wednesday’s masses were intended to give thanks to God for blessing Catholics with a good pope and continue to guide the church under the new pope, who has yet to be elected.
Benedict XVI is the first pope in 600 years to resign.
“I would like someone who is as wise and intelligent and loving as Benedict has been,” McTeigue said.
He said Bishop Frank J. Dewane asked the Diocese of Venice to honor Benedict on Wednesday with Masses of Thanksgiving, also known as votive Mass. Three masses of Thanksgiving were held on Wednesday — 7:30 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. — at the Ave Maria Oratory.
In his homily, McTeigue spoke about the difference in being ambitious and showing zealousness. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI: “God is love.” McTeigue told the crowd it’s God who governs the world, not us.
He asked attendees to pray for Pope Benedict XVI and guide the elector cardinals who will elect a new pope soon. Cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to choose the next pope.
Before and after service, many visitors posed in front of the Oratory to take pictures on their camcorders and camera phones excitedly.
Jim Robinette said he and his family would like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to be the next pope.
But Robinette said Dolan would never win because he is from the U.S. and is known as being liberal. Robinette, who was visiting from Milwaukee, said having an American pope will not happen in his lifetime.
Robinette said the new pope will probably be someone from Africa or South America, where there are many more Catholics. Robinette said he would like the new pope to be similar to Pope John Paul II, who had an enthusiastic and invigorating spirit.
Others such as Georgene Iacobucci, who attended the noon Mass with friends, said she would like the next pope to be Italian.
Iacobucci, 73, who was visiting her Fort Myers Beach friends from Westfield Township, Ohio, recalled her grandmother telling her when she was younger that when the pope is not Italian there would be “problems and troubles on earth.”
But others, such as Gabriel Martinez, Ave Maria University assistant professor of economics, leaves the decision of the new pope in God’s hands.
Martinez said it will be “whomever the Holy Spirt picks.” “Someone who would advance God’s plans for the church,” he said.
“It’s difficult to know. We don’t know what challenges the church will face.”
From a human point of view, Martinez said the new pope should be very smart, knowledgeable of internal and external challenges. Moreover, someone that stands firm for the faith and at the same time makes it appealing to many kinds of people.
Before attending the noon service, Gianna Gambera, 18, said she wants the next pope to be able to keep the traditional faith and guide the Catholic church. Gianna, an Ave Maria freshmen, is not concerned with the next pope’s nationality.
During the two days of celebration, Wednesday and today, Ave Maria University will host daily services, student-organized panel discussion, a student service project to feed the hungry of Immokalee and a lecture. All services are open to the public.
For more information, visit www.avemaria.edu/.