ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Kay Saucier readily admits she’s no saint.

At 68, the Levant grandmother – and soon-to-be great-grandmother – has weathered a difficult marriage, divorce and annulment, raised four kids on a secretary’s salary, and wrestled with past changes in the doctrine of her Roman Catholic faith.

Through it all, attending weekly Mass and sharing in the Eucharist sustained her.

“It gave me peace. It fed me,” said Saucier, who’s on a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia this weekend. “My faith kept me going through all of it. I was exhausted, but I was never in turmoil.”

That comfort is one of the gifts that Francis is offering to Catholics who have strayed and to others who seek safe harbor, Saucier said Friday during a chartered bus ride from Portland to Philadelphia with more than 40 other pilgrims. The group is staying in Atlantic City because it’s the closest to Philadelphia they could find lodging.

Like many on the trip, which was organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Saucier welcomes the interest and excitement generated by the charismatic but humble Argentinian.


It’s especially encouraging to Catholics in Maine, where their numbers have fallen from 286,408 people in 1990 to about 175,000 today.

Lorraine Auclair relishes what some call the “Pope Francis effect,” especially when she sees the dwindling number of young families who attend Mass regularly at Holy Family Catholic Church in Greenville, her hometown.

“I see it every week, so to see this much interest and enthusiasm right now gives me hope,” said Auclair, 63, a hospital department manager. She’s on the pilgrimage with her daughter, Lauren Stone, 38, who lives in Westbrook.

“I’m from the generation that doesn’t think you need to be there every week,” said Stone, a mother of two who works as a customer service representative.

“But I haven’t been this interested in the church in forever,” Stone continued. “Everything is so mean and scary in the world, and Pope Francis is so kind and caring, he kind of gives you hope that it’s really not that bad.”

Another pilgrim, Joseph Webber, a medical technician who lives in Raymond, paints a more stable picture of the church. He notes that some Catholic parishes are growing in other parts of the United States and the world, where there are 70 million members and 1.2 billion members, respectively.


“We’re being called to be near this pope,” said Webber, 67, who teaches adults who are becoming Catholic. “We feel better when we’re close to the light. I saw it with Pope John Paul II and I think this pope is doing it as well. He’s letting people know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

While some Catholics worry that Francis is going soft on church rules against abortion, contraception and gay marriage, Katherine Lane is drawn to his humility and his message to Congress to cooperate for the common good.

“He’s shifting the emphasis away from the bureaucracy of the church and focusing on the teachings of Christ,” said Lane, 72, who lives in Surry, near Ellsworth. “He’s also an excellent diplomat. He wouldn’t have survived the politics in Argentina if he wasn’t.”

A retired family physician, Lane joined the pilgrimage because she wants the crowd that greets Francis on Sunday to be as large as possible. About 1 million people are expected to gather on the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway to celebrate Mass with the pontiff.

Lane brought along her 9-year-old granddaughter, Sabine O’Malley of Portland, to witness the pope’s historic visit. Sabine isn’t Catholic, so her primary goal is to see the Liberty Bell, but she likes what Francis says about helping the poor and educating children and protecting the environment.

“I like what he’s trying to do and the impact he’s having on the world,” she said.


For Saucier, the greatest impact that Francis could have would be to bring former or nonpracticing Catholics back to the flock. She sees him opening the door to sinners like herself.

“The pope is Christ in our presence,” Saucier said. “The apostles were all sinners. The pope calls himself a sinner. All of us are sinners and Jesus accepts us in tenderness and compassion. That’s what Pope Francis is doing today. He is mirroring Christ.”

Saucier also appreciates that this pontiff isn’t getting hung up on the rules. She views the church as a family, and like any organization that allows people to thrive, there are rules that set the bar for best behavior, she said.

But successful families also offer understanding, support and forgiveness when one of their own stumbles.

“Pope Francis hasn’t changed the rules,” Saucier said. “He’s reminding us of the added dimension of love. He’s showing that the church should be more than rules. It should be human. It should meet people where they are.”

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