Slovak cardinal feels at home during Mahoning Valley visit
He said the church in America is considered generous.
By JULIE A. WAGNER
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Last week, Cardinal Jozef Tomko led services before 70,000 people in Guadalajara, Mexico. This week, he came here to celebrate Mass with a small parish. He sees both events as important to the church.
In Mexico, he had represented Pope John Paul II before thousands of people at the 48th International Eucharistic Congress and walked a three-hour pilgrimage with millions of others. The congress is held every four years in a different country.
"Such a beautiful manifestation of faith," he said of the weeklong congress.
The cardinal came to Youngstown to celebrate the 90th anniversary of St. Matthias Church, a Slovak congregation on Cornell Avenue.
But, he says, it's not a question of numbers. The parish is one small community within the Catholic church, and last week's big gathering was made up of parishes just like St. Matthias, the cardinal said Thursday.
The local visit "is also an occasion of personal refreshment," said the cardinal, a native of Slovakia who has spent the past 59 years with the church in Rome. There are many people in Youngstown of Slovak descent, and he said he can see from their names that they came from the region, and even the village, where he grew up.
The pope has designated the year beginning in October as the year of the Eucharist, which is the belief that the spirit and body of Jesus Christ are contained in the communion wafer and wine. The cardinal's task is to spread that message.
The importance of the Eucharist doesn't stop after one leaves the church, Cardinal Tomko said.
"God wants us to be faithful 24 hours in a day, seven days a week," he said.
The pope, says Cardinal Tomko, is a man of such faith.
"He believes what he preaches, and he preaches what he believes," the cardinal said.
He described him as "a saintly man," "a praying man" and someone who loves every person.
Cardinal Tomko said that he has seen that when the pope listens to an individual he focuses on that person and has a wonderful memory in recognizing people.
The pope is very respectful of people, the cardinal said, adding, "for him, every single person is important."
For that reason people, especially the young, are drawn to and listen to the pope, he said.
Church is maturing
Though it has hit a difficult, critical time, the cardinal sees the church in America as maturing.
"People are more and more aware of why they are going to church," he said, noting that this is true in other countries as well. "I think people are asking the questions and going in depth."
"Generally speaking, the church in America is considered a very generous people," he said. Visitors are greeted with great hospitality.
"The spirit of communion is very strong," he said.
From 1985 to 2001, Cardinal Tomko, 80, led the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees missions throughout the world. When a mission was ready to become a diocese, he would take the request to the pope. He said he oversaw the birth of 180 dioceses.