A few days after Pope John Paul II left the United States after his jubilant two-day visit in Washington, Msgr. David E. Foley, pastor of St. Bernadette's Church in Silver Spring, received a phone call from a former parishioner who had been separated from her husband for a year.
"The woman," the pastor recounted, "said she had watched the Holy Father on television and heard his message on marriage, about how separations come about when two people get lost in themselves rather than each other. She asked me if I could talk with her and her husband, and help them work on a reconciliation."
Later, Foley received a letter from another parisioner's wife who said she was not a Catholic, but had raised her children in the Catholic faith because of her husband. The pope's visit, she related, had spurred her to think about attending classes for converts, Foley said.
The impact of John Paul's vist here will doubtless be unfolding for the next several months. But in this Catholic parish -- a microcosm of the larger American Catholic community -- there are already small signs that the pontiff's words struck a poignant chord for some people who been living on the outskirts of the Catholic faith.
In is virtually impossible, though, the priests acknowledge, to gauge whether this renewed interest is merely a passing euphoria after an emotional event, or if in fact the pope's visit will turn around recent trends in Catholicism that show an increasingly large number of Catholics disagreeing with the church's stand on such issues as divorce, birth control, celibacy for priests and the role of women in the church.
"I think Catholics will still go to church who practice birth control, separate and divorce, as they did before," said parishioner Bob Barry, who added that he agreed with little the pope said during his visit.
If the pope has managed to influence some people's lives, Barry and others point out, it is because of the humanness and compassion he exhibited during his visit rather than what he said.
"He's a loving man, different from the popes in the past who seemed so distant and autocratic. This is someone you feel you can talk to," Barry noted.
"I think people are generally going to be glad he was here. He's brought Catholics as a whole closer together."
The Rev. Edward Bayer, a St. Bernadette's priest, said several Catholics have come to him in the last week expressing the desire to become active again in the church. "One man said he had been listening to the pope and began to realize that he had been living life on a very, very selfish level."
"I see all kinds of questions being raised again in people's consciences," Bayer said. The self-questioning is coming at a time when many Catholics had come to believe that what their individual consciences dictated somehow superseded the moral standards the church teaches, he said.
However, the pope's words also touched the parish faithful -- those who go to mass and confession regularly, who protest abortion, who try to follow the church's teaching against birth control, who have kept up their devotion to the Virgin Mary, even after it became unfashionable to do so.
In his strong words against abortion, divorce and birth control, and his equally strong emphasis on the family, prayer and devotion to Christ, many of the parish faithful say the pope was merely reaffirming their basic Catholic beliefs at a time when so many of these tenets seem out of line with the trends of modern life.
To them his message was, according to a St. Bernadette's parishioner, "to keep plugging along."
Seventeen-year old George Thuronyi, for example, says he used to feel awkward among his friends at the University of Maryland because he attended mass regularly and has held onto many of the beliefs he was taught in 12 years of Catholic school.
"I only know two people my age who still go to church," Thuronyi said. But the success of the pope's visits with young people in Boston, New York and Ireland has made him feel "there's nothing wrong with sticking to tradition."
Nowhere were the pope's words more strongly welcomed perhaps than within the parish prolife committee, where members are planning to capitalize on the pope's firm stand on the sanctity of life before birth to get more Catholics involved in the anti abortion movement.
Sally Murphy, head of the parish prolife committee, said there will be a forum in the next few weeks for parishioners where the pope's stand on abortion and his views on family life, expressed in his sermon last Sunday on the Mall, will be discussed.
"The pope got up there and reminded (the prolife activists) that we are not alone, and that the teachings of the Catholic Church are behind us 100 percent," Murphy said.
Bayer said the pope's sermon on family life will be used in discussions in the parish program for engaged couples since it stresses that marriage is a sacred union that cannot be dissolved.
In addition, the homily will be distributed to the parish families during the pre-Christmas season to aid them in preparing spirtually for that religious holiday.
But even at St. Bernadette's, with its emphasis on family life, where some parish families have as many as 10 or 11 children, there is considerable disagreement over the pope's conservative stand against artifical birth control.
Though the pope stressed in his homily that "it is certainly less serious to deny. . . children certain comforts and material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters," many couples at St. Bernadette's have said openly they disagree with the church's teaching on birth control, citing today's financial burdens on large families.
But unlike Pope Paul VI's controversial 1965 encyclical, condenning artificial contraceptives, which triggered a widespread exodus of many Catholics from the church, John Paul's pronouncement seems to have generated much less antagonism.
"He seems to be the man who can say these things and not get people angry with him," said parishioner Frances Fitzgerald.
The lack of outcry over the birth control issue is also related to the way many Catholics view the pronouncement from the pope not as being an absolute dictum but as an "ideal" for them to strive for, even though it may not always be possible to achieve.
It is difficult to assess what impact, if any of pope's pleas on behalf of the needy will have in Catholic parishes across America.
St. Bernadette's a largely white, middle-class parish, is known more for helping its own parishioners -- those with financial problems or who have had death or illness in the family -- rather than for its social outreach programs. d
"Needless to say, i'm not going to go out sell my stereo," said religion instructor Bob Tocha. Nonetheless, the pope's message, he says, reminded Catholics of their social obligations at a time when money is tight and there is an increasingly loud cry from the public to cut government social programs as a means of lowering taxes.
"What he's done is put religious values back into the marketplace," Tocha said.