00 7/25/2009 1:12 AM
Local deacon meets the Pope

Published: Thursday, July 23, 2009

TORRINGTON, Connecticut — Steven Marcus’s lifelong dream was realized last month when the St. Maron’s Maronite Church deacon met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

“I think after my marriage, the birth of my children, and my ordination, this was one of the greatest highlights of my life,” the forty-four-year-old father of two said of his half-hour private audience with His Holiness on June 25.

Marcus, who was ordained as a deacon at St. Maron in May, traveled to Rome as part a mission for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWFA is a charity supporting Catholics in the Middle East, Eastern Africa, India, and Eastern Europe where Catholics are religious minorities.

Marcus sits on the association’s board.

He said his connection to the Middle East was both personal and spiritual. His wife, Winsted native Renee Simon Marcus, 47, is of Lebanese descent.

“Catholics are being pushed out of places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem,” Marcus said, adding that CNEWFA’s mission was to raise awareness for the plight of Catholics as well as build orphanages, hospitals, and health care clinics.

Along with a half-dozen other members of the association, Steven and Renee were accompanied by their two sons, Steven Jr. 18, and Ben 15. The group was escorted through the Papal Apartments by the Swiss Guards.

Marcus said that the experience of meeting the Pope “blew me away,” not least of which because His Holiness appeared to be at least familiar with Litchfield County.

“He looked me in the eyes and asked us where we’re from,” Marcus said. “I told him we were from Connecticut. He asked me ‘Where in Connecticut?’ I told him I was from Torrington. ‘Torrington.’ He said it in his strong German accent. I will never forget it.”

The Pope ended their meeting with a prayer for peace, saying “I renew my prayer and appeal for no more war, no more violence, no more injustice.”

Marcus said his two sons were as impressed as he was with His Holiness.

“Ben was just beaming afterwards, and I think Steven is going to use it as part of his college entrance paper,” he said.

Marcus said he was taken aback by the number of churches in Italy, as well as the number of fellow Catholics who could be seen in prayer.

“Afterwards we were standing in St. Peter’s Square and I had to pinch myself,” he said. “What a glorious place to be.”

For now, Marcus said he has incorporated his half hour with Pope Benedict XVI into his preaching at St. Maron and has recounted the story several times for his parishioners.

Marcus has a long-history at the ninety-year-old Eastern Rite Catholic Church. It’s where he studied to be a priest in the seminary, and where met his wife, then a parishioner.