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West Michigan priest reflects on meeting late Pope Benedict XVI

The Diocese of Grand Rapids is encouraging all 80 parishes to hold remembrance Masses on Thursday.

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — The late Pope Benedict XVI will soon be laid to rest after his funeral at The Vatican in Rome, and tens of thousands are expected to go to the funeral services in Saint Peter's Square. 

Here in West Michigan, the Diocese of Grand Rapids is encouraging all 80 parishes to hold remembrance Masses. One of them, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, will do so at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Father Chris Rouech, a pastor at Holy Trinity, got to meet the former pontiff about ten years ago before he retired.

"I was there on sabbatical. And it just happened that I was there at the same time [as] our bishops. All the bishops of Michigan are there to meet the Pope every five years. So it's just me, Bishop Walter Hurley and Pope Benedict, in the room with a photographer and such for a few minutes," he says. "He went to shake my hand, I felt like I was the only person in the room." 

Fr. Rouech says he was pretty nervous so he didn't say much, but what Pope Benedict XVI said stuck with him. 

"Bishop Hurley introduced me as the as a Director for the Office for Worship for the Diocese," he says. "And when the Pope shook my hand, he said, 'Oh, liturgy, very important, very important.' And I just found that very affirming." 

The former pontiff was known as often shy and sometimes polarizing in his eight years at The Vatican. Over the years, Fr. Rouech says he's grown to appreciate his role in Rome.

"There's a bookmark that a friend has shared with me that said, basically, Pope John Paul II taught us what we believe. Pope Benedict XVI taught us why we believe it. And then Pope Francis is teaching us how we live it. And so it takes different people or different perspectives or different strengths to really keep us moving forward on the path of Jesus Christ," he says. 

Fr. Rouech hopes that Catholics in West Michigan and around the world take this time to find unity. 

"That was one of [Pope Benedict XVI's] goals. He so wanted the church to be united," he says. 

There will also be a remembrance Mass Thursday at 12:05 p.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. 

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