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Some local Catholics to see pope in D.C.

St. Maria Goretti's principal to attend White House reception

St. Maria Goretti's principal to attend White House reception

April 16, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Several local Catholics will be among the crowd of more than 45,000 who will pack Nationals Stadium in Washington D.C., Thursday morning for what will be, for many, the religious event of a lifetime: The opportunity to celebrate Mass with the pope.

Only 2,500 of the tickets to the event were made available to members of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which includes Washington County, local parishioners said. The bulk of the tickets were distributed by the Archdiocese of Washington, which is hosting the Mass.

Getting one of that limited number of tickets was a matter of both luck and timing, said Wendy Varron, a member of St. Ann Roman Catholic Church in Hagerstown. Varron managed to get tickets for herself and her daughter by requesting them online as soon as they became available.

"Within three or four hours, they didn't have any tickets left, yet people were still requesting them," Varron said.

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Having converted to Catholicism last year, Varron said she never has attended a Mass this large or seen a pope in person.

"To find out he was coming to a venue that was close enough to go to was exciting," she said.

At St. Maria Goretti High School, a Catholic school in Hagerstown, administrators held a lottery to choose one student from each grade to attend the event with the school's principal, campus minister Barbara Miller said. In addition, the school was provided a ticket for its student representative on the Archdiocesan Youth Advisory Council, and at least four other Goretti students have said they are going with their parishes, Miller said.

"I think it'll be an experience they remember the rest of their lives," Miller said. "How many times in your life do you have a chance to see the pope, even at a distance like that?"

The Rev. Doug Kenney, pastor at St. Ann, said he remembers serving as an assistant coordinator for the Papal Mass when Pope John Paul II came to Baltimore in 1995.

"I just remember the enthusiasm of the whole stadium, just preparing and waiting," Kenney said. Everyone was in their seats two or three hours before the service began, he said.

This year, he said he plans to stay home and watch the event on television to give others an opportunity to experience the excitement.

Kenney said he expects Pope Benedict XVI will have a different way of presenting himself and interacting with audiences than his predecessor.

Benedict is known as more of a scholar and an educator, he said.

"He's not quite as charismatic as John Paul II, and that's OK," Kenney said. "Not all popes are the same."

Few people are likely to get to meet Benedict personally, Kenney said.

"I don't think you're going to see him walking along and shaking a whole bunch of hands," he said. "Not that he doesn't want to do those things. He knows what his boundaries are at 81."

However, one Hagerstown resident has a better chance at a personal meeting than others. St. Maria Goretti Principal Chris Siedor was one of only about 1,000 people invited to attend a reception for the pope at the White House today, Pope Benedict's 81st birthday.

Security is so tight that Siedor had to undergo a complete background check and pick up his ticket in person with a photo ID, he said.

Siedor doesn't know if he will have an opportunity to speak to the pope, but if he does, he already has an idea of what to say.

"I'm going to walk up and say, 'Your Holiness, I just want to say, happy 60th birthday,'" Siedor said. "I hope that will give him a smile."

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