The bells rang for 45 minutes at St. Alphonsus Church after the election of a new pope yesterday. A deacon had interrupted the midday mass to whisper into the ear of a priest that a successor to Pope John Paul II had been selected - a prominent conservative cardinal.
The news was met with support at Baltimore's bastion of traditional Catholicism.
"It's not going to change things here," Monsignor Arthur W. Bastress said later at the 205-year-old downtown church, which proudly declares that it is the only one in the city to regularly celebrate the Latin-language Tridentine Mass, described on the church's Web site as "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven."
Conservative Catholics across the Baltimore area exhaled upon hearing the news that Pope John Paul's successor was the German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI.
For tradition-loving churchgoers, the elevation of the new pope happily portends continued opposition to abortion, resistance to the ordination of women, and the practice of historic rites. That includes the saying of Masses in Latin, a 1,500-year-old practice that was restricted after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Adherents of the Mass, in which the priest begins with the sign of the cross, then intones, "Introibo ad altare Dei" - "I will go to the altar of God" - say that it unifies the church through a common service. Pope John Paul encouraged the return of the Tridentine Mass.
"I'm a conservative Catholic, and I think the fate of the world depends on a good, conservative Catholic pope," said Kevin Palardy, 50, a former altar boy who was educated in Catholic schools and counts two relatives as priests.
At St. Ignatius Church in Mount Vernon, Palardy joined 15 parishioners chanting - in Latin - as part of a noonday service. Palardy, from Lutherville, had interrupted the midday mass at the 150-year-old church to announce the sight of white smoke at the Vatican.
He said he hopes that the new pontiff will continue the conservative legacy of his predecessor. "If we got some new guy, then I'd be worried. This is consistent. I'm happy now. I'm reassured."
Joe Wieman, 77, an administrative law judge from Catonsville who is another midday mass regular at St. Ignatius, expressed confidence that the new pope will follow Pope John Paul's lead.
"He preached a culture of life, and I hope the new pope continues that message," Wieman said, adding that he thinks the new pope "won't go astray."
After the half-hour mass at St. Ignatius, the Rev. James Casciotti, the associate pastor who led the service in a basement chapel, doffed his cream robes and left in a hurry for a television set in the building.
Jeannette Cohn of Severna Park learned the news during the noon mass at St. John Neumann in Annapolis yesterday. "Pope John Paul II transformed the world, and we hope the new pope is going to do that, too," said the mother of seven.
Leaving the midday Mass at St. Alphonsus, parishioner John Rutkowski also said he looked for a pontiff who would continue using personal appeals to stoke interest in the church.
"I hope and pray that he is a people person just like the previous pope - and that he keeps strict rules," said Rutkowski, 46, of White Marsh.
Like the new pope, St. Alphonsus has German roots. Founded by a German order known as the Redemptorists, the parish was later taken over by Lithuanian Catholics and now reflects the increasingly multicultural character of the religion, said Monsignor Bastress. Hispanics, Koreans and Caribbean immigrants regularly come to the red-brick church to attend Masses, including the Sunday service in Latin.
After the death of Pope John Paul, Monsignor Bastress said parishioners were interested to learn who would be his replacement. "They were curious ... what he will do," said Bastress, reclining on a couch in the St. Alphonsus offices. "And that remains to be seen."
Sun staff writers Anica Butler and Molly Knight contributed to this article.
In The Pews