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A SACRED LINK TO ROME
ST. GERARD CHURCH IS MODELED AFTER BASILICA OF ST. PAUL

A glimpse of the majesty of Rome can be found on Buffalo's East Side.

With its sturdy granite columns and depictions of popes, the interior of St. Gerard Church at Bailey and East Delavan avenues is modeled after the basilica where Pope Benedict XVI spent Monday visiting the tomb of St. Paul.

St. Gerard is roughly one-third of the size of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, but it shares many decorative touches with the second largest church in Rome.

The ornamental coffered ceilings of both are richly covered with gold leaf and ivory. Windows above the columns are separated by ecclesiastical artwork; in St. Gerard they are paintings, in the basilica they are mosaics.

The marble floors of both churches are arranged in a series of alternating circles and squares.

Benedict XVI made his first visit outside Vatican City Monday evening with a stop in the Basilica of St. Paul, one of the four major basilicas of Rome and the spot where St. Paul is believed buried.

St. Paul and St. Peter are considered the founders of Christianity.

In his homily at the basilica, the pontiff remarked that he was visiting to emphasize the missionary nature of the church espoused by St. Paul, and continued by Pope John Paul II, Benedict's predecessor.

Benedict called his visit a "much longed for pilgrimage . . . a pilgrimage so to speak to the roots of the mission."

Though not as renowned as St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's draws tens of thousands of visitors a year with its architecture and art, including a huge mosaic of Jesus and his apostles that covers the apse.

Nearly a football field and a half in length, it sits on the southern outskirts of Rome surrounded by palm trees and a small park where children play soccer.

The 4th century basilica was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1823 and includes circular mosaics of all of the popes dating back to St. Peter, 271 in all, including several so-called anti-popes. When a mosaic for Benedict XVI is completed, it will be placed next to John Paul II and bathed in a spotlight throughout his pontificate.

Two rows of rondos around the arcade of the nave of St. Gerard depict 26 popes, the most recent being Paul VI.

"We already ran out of room for the popes," said Dick Chiezky, a trustee.

St. Gerard parish had a membership of 4,000 families at its peak. It now counts about 150 families as members and draws small numbers for its two weekend Masses.

Built of Indiana limestone, the church can seat 900 and still looks like a fortress amid the nearby houses and stores.

"It really shows the presence of the Catholic church in the neighborhood," said its pastor, the Rev. Francis X. Mazur.

The church was constructed in 1911 with a temporary roof. A second story, known as the clerestory -- the area that most resembles the Basilica of St. Paul -- was added in 1931, when money to finish the project became available.

Accounts of the church's history speculate that the interior was modeled after St. Paul's in Rome because the founding pastor, Monsignor William J. Schreck, was fond of the basilica.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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