"He is not inventing his own thing," said Sabatino Carnazzo, 29, of Front Royal, Va., the director of religious studies at St. Catherine's. "He does not stand up and say, 'I think this is best. I think that is best.' He is merely saying, 'God has put me here to do one thing and that is to hand on what I have received.' "
Others said the job of the pope is to get himself and his flock to heaven, so in that way, he is a vessel to their eternal salvation. "That is his job," said Bob Chronowski, 62, of Great Falls, "to protect us and guide us to heaven."
For some, the pope is a second father. "As far as having a connection with the pope," said Anson Groves, 29, of Reston, a member of St. Catherine's, "we call him Holy Father not for nothing. His holiness is somebody we should emulate. He is our father, our spiritual father, so we should look to him for guidance and direction on how to be Catholic. That should be every Catholic's relationship with him."
Some members of St. Catherine's thought that they had found a kindred Catholic spirit in Benedict.
"He is on the ball," said Pam Skojec of Ashburn, who recently joined the parish. "He sees a lot of problems in the church. He wants to fix them. He cannot change church doctrine, and all these Catholics who want him to go do something about birth control, you can't change these things. These aren't changeable."
St. Catherine's is known as a conservative parish, though the pastor prefers the term "traditional."
After the service ended, McAfee stood outside the church under a black sky. He said the parish was well-named because St. Catherine was a fierce protector of the papacy.
"She was a very outspoken woman," he said. "At the time she was living, there were priests who were fooling around with women, and she called them stinky weeds. And she wrote to Pope Gregory XI and said: 'Reform the church or resign.' "
McAfee said Benedict XVI will have an impact on his parish.
"I have heard about him, but what I have seen is his humility, his saintliness," he said. "That is an impact. We've already had calls from people who want to convert who have watched all this on TV. The only way to reform the church is to reform yourself and become more spiritual, and I think that is what he is going to emphasize."
And at Blessed Sacrament in the District, D'Silva was equally hopeful that his parishioners would find Benedict welcoming.
"He is not a German pope or even a vicar of some people. He is a man for all peoples and all times," D'Silva said in his homily.
"So do not be afraid. We have nothing to be afraid of. We know the church is in good hands. We pray for Benedict XVI that he will demonstrate and exhibit the compassion of Jesus Christ."