Local Catholics excited for Pope's arrival

April 14, 2008 8:49:46 PM PDT
The final touches are being put into place in preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States. The pontiff will fly in on a flight dubbed "Shepherd One" Tuesday afternoon. While the largest events will be held in the nation's capitol and New York City, people right here in our area are looking forward to the visit... from the Archbishop of Philadelphia to parishioners.

The countdown is on for Pope Benedict XVI's 5-day visit. Some Catholics from the Philadelphia Archdiocese will be on hand to greet him when arrives in the nation's capital.

Rose Marie O'Keefe tied up loose ends as she and some Catholic Leadership Institute staffers prepare for a trip to Washington to meet Pope Benedict at the Whitehouse on Wednesday. "It's quite an honor to be part of the group that's going down to see the Pope," said O'Keefe.

She is one of 30 people invited through the Catholic Leadership Training Agency to greet the Pope on the first day of his U.S. visit. They will attend a welcome ceremony on the Whitehouse lawn Wednesday. On Thursday, 45,000 Catholics will hear their spiritual leader conduct mass at the Washington Nationals baseball field. On Saturday, 3,000 Catholics from the Philadelphia Archdiocese will travel on buses to be among the 57,000 attending the pope's Yankee Stadium mass in New York.

Cardinal Justin Rigali will be in both places. He says, "It's a very extraordinary experience and a very satisfying experience."

Rigali traveled to nearly 130 countries with the late Pope John Paul II as a translator. Rigali explains, "So we went to England, and Scotland and Whales and Australia." He also translated John Paul's 1979 mass at Logan Square in Philadelphia.

Rigali says Benedict XVI's first U.S. trip will seek strengthened American Catholic spirituality in the face of so many secular challenges.

"The Pope comes to encourage. He comes to up light. His message is a message of hope," says Cardinal RIgali. "To personally be in the presence of the Holy Father, to listen to his message and to see him is an overwhelming experience... Spiritually uplifting."

Catholic Leadership Institute CEO Matthew Manion was on the parkway for the Pope's 1979 Philadelphia mass. He was 9-years-old then. He's seen John Paul speak twice since then and is thrilled about the chance to see Pope Benedict XVI.

"I'm really excited to see the Holy Father and to hear him at the Whitehouse in 2 days. I think it will be a wonderfully moving emotional spiritual experience," said Manion.

While in the United States, the Pope will address the United Nations. He'll celebrate his 81st Birthday Wednesday, as well as his 3rd anniversary as Pope while here on April 19th, which is Cardinal Rigali's birthday.

The Pope will leave the States this Sunday, April 20th.