BILLINGS — Pope Benedict XVI may have lived halfway around the world, but his life is being celebrated in Billings and beyond.
The St. Patrick's Co-Cathedral mass on Tuesday in Billings was presided over by Father Leo McDowell, who’s been in the presence of the former pope on multiple occasions in Rome. That made the celebration at St. Patrick’s even more impactful.
"He was a strong lover of God and could see where the love of Jesus and the faith united to each other," said McDowell on Tuesday.
Benedict died New Year's Eve in Vatican City at the age of 95.
McDowell has been to the Vatican, but many gathered at St. Patrick’s Tuesday night have not. Even so, many say they felt a close connection to the late pontiff because of the legacy he left behind.
"I feel just very connected to him, and I have for many years. And so, this was just a beautiful way to remember him, and to appreciate all that he truly has done for his flock, and it was a beautiful night," said Jessica Sekerak, who attended the mass on Tuesday.
"He was well suited for coming in and knowing what was happening and understanding the faith and finding ways to present it," added McDowell.
But Pope Benedict’s papacy did face several challenges - including divisive debates about the future of the church and criticism over the handling of numerous cases of sexual abuse by priests. In 2013, Benedict became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign the papacy, citing his declining health. He was succeeded by the current pontiff, Pope Francis.
Despite his challenges, Benedict was loved by many. And the mass showed his connection to Catholics everywhere, including the church in Montana.
"Having mass in Billings helps see us ourselves as part of the universal church. That we’re not just Billings, we’re not just Eastern Montana or not just the church in the United States. We are part of a universal church that goes all the way around the world and the Pope is our common connection. That’s our common focal point," McDowell added.