The path to the Vatican sometimes goes through the Pittston area.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, one of the temporary heads of the Roman Catholic Church put in place after the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, spent time in Greater Pittston in 2009 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Oblates order in America.
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation last Thursday opened what is known as the “sede vacante” or “vacant see” — the transition period between papacies when a few key Vatican officials take charge of running the church.
Sodano is the senior member of the College of Cardinals, the so-called “princes” of the church whose main task is to elect a pope. Sodano oversees the pre-conclave meetings, at which the problems of the church are discussed, and has duties inside the conclave itself, including asking the newly elected pontiff if he accepts the job.
Sodano is 85 years old, cannot vote and is an unlikely candidate for pope, said the Rev. Paul McDonnell, a West Pittston native who leads the Oblates order in the United States. He is stationed in California.
“It will be the privilege of Cardinal Sodano to announce to the world from the Vatican balcony following the papal election: ‘Habemus papam’ or ‘we have a pope.’ It will be then that the newly elected Holy Father will step out to greet the world,” McDonnell said.
Sodano is a native of Asti, Italy, the same boyhood area and home diocese of St. Joseph Marello, McDonnell noted.
“He visited the Greater Pittston area from May 29 to June 1, 2009 on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Oblates of Saint Joseph from Italy to the United States, specifically in the Diocese of Scranton,” McDonnell said. “Cardinal Sodano celebrated Mass on May 30, 2009 in the chapel of the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary, Laflin, on the Feast Day of St. Joseph Marello, founder of the Oblate Congregation.”
The following day, Sodano was the principal celebrant and homilist of a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Pittston, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary.
A commemorative banquet followed afterward in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Center.
“It was a glorious weekend to have the former Secretary of State and present Dean of the College of Cardinals in our midst as he enjoyed his visit to Pittston and the many faith-filled people of our local area,” McDonnell said.
Burly and sociable, the Italian Sodano was Pope John Paul II’s longtime secretary of state. As dean, he spoke on behalf of all the cardinals in giving a final farewell to Benedict last Thursday, thanking him for his “selfless service.”
Still, Sodano and Benedict were known to have clashed when Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, particularly over the scandal-plagued Legion of Christ religious order. Sodano was a chief backer and protector of the Legion’s late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, even though the Vatican had known for years of solid allegations that he was sexually molesting his seminarians. Within Benedict’s first year in office, Maciel was sentenced by the Vatican to a lifetime of penance and prayers for his crimes. That same year Benedict named Bertone to replace the retiring Sodano as secretary of state.
A portrait of Sodano and a commemorative plaque hang in the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary Chapel.
McDonnell said these are exciting times for the church, and the entire region should be proud there is a “Pittston connection” to what is unfolding in the “Eternal City.”
“We, Oblates of St. Joseph, locally and throughout the world, are proud and grateful for the many years of friendship that we have had with Cardinal Sodano, who was very instrumental in the Beatification and Canonization process of our Holy Founder, St. Joseph Marello.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.