For Father Mike Paraniuk, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro and St. Benignus Parish in Greenfield, this week’s visit by Pope Francis is an event both historic and exciting.
“It’s electrifying,” said Paraniuk on Monday.
The priest said he saw the pope briefly during a trip to Rome last October as the pontiff drove past in the “Popemobile.”
“I only saw him for about 10 seconds, but it was like, ‘Wow,’” recalled the priest. “The hair stood up on the back of my head.”
While he obeys the tenants of the church and follows church law whether he personally agrees with it or not, Paraniuk makes no secret of the fact that he is supportive of what appears to be a more liberal outlook by Pope Francis.
“He’s liberal in the sense that he has castigated the priests for being holier than thou,” said Paraniuk, who appreciates Francis’ “common touch” with people and his emphasis on “lifting them up instead of just pontificating, pardon the pun.”
Paraniuk said he is supportive of the changes he believes the pope is initiating, changes he said he has been supporting for 30 years, particularly in regard to a more lenient view of annulment and divorce.
“I got in trouble at the time,” said Paraniuk. “But I don’t think this pope is afraid to reach out to different people.” He said Francis inspired him to start St. Mary’s soup kitchen, an outreach to the needy.
Paraniuk compares Francis favorably to his favorite pontiff, Pope John XXIII, whose papacy lasted from 1958-1963, and who initiated the historic Second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962-65 and instituted more outreach and openness.
Pope Francis, Paraniuk believes, is determined to usher in a message more focused on love and acceptance than judgment and condemnation. He compares Francis’ approach to that of Jesus who, he said, set an example of reaching out to sinners and, while not condoning their sin, showing them love.
“It’s about greater access to God,” said Paraniuk. “We’re all welcome at the table of God’s love.”
Paraniuk said Francis’ visit to the U.S. is not just an exciting event for Catholics, but for many protestant Christians, too. “They feel he is such a wonderful example of Christ,” said Paraniuk, quoting his protestant friends. “He puts on no airs. He is unfiltered.”
Paraniuk said, “The pope, to me, expresses how Jesus lived and went to those who are the least. He’s approachable.”
When Pope Francis arrives on his first-ever U.S. visit, he’ll get an airport welcome few world leaders ever receive: a plane-side greeting from President Barack Obama.
The extraordinary gesture on Tuesday will mark the beginning of the pomp and pageantry that Washington will put on display to welcome the popular leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
On Wednesday, Francis will become just the third pope to visit the White House. He and Obama will meet privately in the Oval Office .
In Washington, he also will address a joint meeting of Congress, the first pope to do so.
Francis plans to visit New York and Philadelphia before returning to the Vatican.
Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-2nd Dist.) is accepting constituent requests for tickets to Francis’ congressional address on Thursday in Washington D.C.
Beginning at 10 a.m., the pope will address a joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol Building. The address will also be broadcast live on a Jumbotron on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Each member of Congress has been given a limited number of tickets for the West Front broadcast to share with constituents.
Tickets will only be given to residents of Ohio’s Second District, and will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.
“While there is no guarantee that the Jumbotron will be completely visible to all guests, your ticket will guarantee you a spot on the Capitol lawn for this historic event,” according to a press release from Wenstrup’s office.
To request tickets, constituents can visit Wenstrup’s website, www.wenstrup.house.gov, and click on “Tickets for Pope Francis’ Address to Congress.” Upon completing the request form, the office will follow up regarding ticket availability.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary. The Associated Press contributed to this story.