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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Friday

Redemptorists provide historic gift for pope

What to give a pope who already owns an iPod? How about a personal item that once adorned the body of the first male, naturalized U.S. citizen to be declared a saint?

Through the generosity of the Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province, when President Barack Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI July 10 in Rome, he presented the pope with a stole (pictured) that was used to dress the earthly remains of St. John Neumann, a 19th-century Redemptorist who tirelessly served the growing immigrant population in the United States.

The president and the pope met privately for about 30 minutes at the Vatican. The two exchanged gifts – the pope presented the president with a mosaic of St. Peter’s Basilica and a signed copy of the pope’s newest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") – and the pope met the rest of the Obama family.

"It’s a delight that something of one of our Redemptorist saints would be given to our Holy Father," said Very Rev. Patrick Woods, provincial of the Redemptorists’ Baltimore Province, which encompasses the U.S. East Coast. "We’re delighted as Americans that our president is visiting the Holy Father, and delighted that something belonging to our province would be given to him." Father Woods said the stole was an appropriate gift to give to the pope as a symbol of the priesthood that was "at the heart of St. John Neumann’s life as a Redemptorist." In light of Neumann’s extensive service to immigrants, Father Woods said the gift was also symbolic of the new wave of immigration occurring in the United States, and the Redemptorists’ continued service to these often marginalized and over-looked groups.

"We’re giving the gift because it was asked for by our government to be given to the pope, and it’s an honor," said Very Rev. Al Bradley, vice provincial for facilities.

Louis R. DiCocco, president of the St. Jude Shops and St. Jude Liturgical Arts Studio, an architecture and design firm that specializes in building and restoring churches, was instrumental in procuring the stole for the president. A Philadelphia native whose family has long been devoted to St. John Neumann, DiCocco was approached by the Obama administration based on his participation in the pope’s recent U.S. visit. His company designed and built one of the chairs used by Pope Benedict during his meeting with the U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in April 2008.

"They wanted to find an antique chalice, but I suggested it was important to get something more personable," DiCocco said. "I told them about this stole that was something that belonged to an immigrant who was so instrumental in serving immigrants and building Catholic schools. What better than the stole that represents the priest?"

For more information about St. John Neumann, visit the National Shrine of St. John Neumann at www.stjohnneumann.org.