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Defiant Catholics Hold Latin Mass

August 9, 2000

ROME (AP) _ Thousands of arch-conservative Roman Catholics conducted their own defiant Holy Year pilgrimage Wednesday, celebrating Mass in Latin and urging the church to return to that and other traditions it largely abandoned 35 years ago.

The surprise Mass unfolded under the trees of a dusty Rome hilltop _ across the Tiber River from far-off St. Peter’s, where followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre said the Latin liturgy truly belongs.

Adherence to the old Latin-language Mass contributed to Pope John Paul II’s excommunication of Lefebvre in 1988, and to the church’s first major schism in 130 years.

``It is like a crucifixion _ the crucifixion of tradition,″ successor Bishop Bernard Fellay told worshippers, the heads of women and girls alike covered in lace mantillas, straw hats or baseball caps.

``We ask the Holy Father to give us back the Mass,″ the white-and-gold-robed prelate said, directly appealing to John Paul to return to old ways so that God ``may reign again in this church, in this town, in this whole Earth.″

The alternative, he said, is ``like suicide _ because the church is tradition.″

Lefebvre and now his followers reject liberal reforms of the 1962-65 Vatican Council _ Vatican II _ that were meant to make the church more accessible to the laity. The innovations included giving up the Latin Mass in favor of those in the local language of each land and turning priests around to face the congregation rather than the altar.

The French-born Lefebvre died in 1991; adherents of his conservative beliefs say they number in the hundreds of thousands today.

Followers from Europe, the Philippines, North America and elsewhere came to Rome for a three-day pilgrimage ending Thursday.

Look ``where we have to celebrate Mass, in this place,″ Fellay said under a velvet pavilion on the hill, grown over the ruins of Nero’s palace across from the Colosseum. ``The Mass, the Roman Mass, has no right (today) to be celebrated in Rome!″

Young and old lined up to kneel in confession before priests on folding chairs under the shade. Black-robed nuns hovered on the fringes of the crowd, chatting.

``We’re here to show our loyalty to Rome, to the Holy Father,″ said the Rev. Edward MacDonald of Dublin, Ireland. ``We’re not in schism at all.″

``We just hope and pray that they return to the traditional faith,″ added Dan Rathke, a lay follower from St. Paul, Minn.

The pilgrimage by the 5,000-8,000 traditionalists was for Rome a surprise event not listed on the Holy Year calendar.

The Vatican has said nothing publicly about the appearance of the renegade movement’s pilgrims, who made the traditional trip through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s on Tuesday.

Holy Year officials cooperated with the pilgrimage to the extent of easing basilica tours for the large group and providing the city’s blue-and-yellow garbed volunteer guides for the Mass _ but not to the extent of opening the city’s basilicas for the Latin Mass.

The church has made overtures to bring priests and others in the movement back in the fold.

The last schism, in 1870, was over the issue of papal infallibility.

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