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Youngsters to attend pope's Mass in D.C.

| Monday, April 7, 2008

The teens in Dana Pivik's youth group at St. Winifred Roman Catholic Church felt an immediate connection with Pope Benedict XVI when they learned he had an iPod.

"They saw that he's a human being just like them," said Pivik, 27, of Plum, who will be among 250 people from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to attend the pope's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park in Washington.

Youngsters -- wearing black and gold jackets -- from 42 parishes in the Pittsburgh diocese will attend Benedict's first Mass on U.S. soil. They are among the lucky few. Of 40,000 tickets to the Mass at Nationals Stadium, 14,000 were made available to 120 dioceses in the country. The Pittsburgh diocese got 250 tickets for Washington, which were distributed mainly to youth organizations, and 100 to New York. The diocese of Greensburg received just 25 tickets for Washington and the same number for a Mass April 20 in New York at Yankee Stadium.

"We understand. We had hoped to get more. We knew it was tight to begin with. Given the number of requests, how are you going to get upset?" said Jerry Zufelt, spokesman for the Diocese of Greensburg.

Kirby Luczak, 17, of Wilkins hopes the "once-in-a-lifetime experience" will energize a lot of people her age about the church and the opportunities the pope wants them to seize.

"He wants youth to be a big part of the church," she said.

The pope, who will celebrate his 81st birthday on April 16, is reaching young people with a message of hope, said Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who served as bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years before being named in 2006 to succeed Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who retired.

"One of the things he said early on was the church is always young. It's always there for young people. I think young people see that in this pope. They hear in his message words of hope, words of challenge," Wuerl said.

The pope was presented with an iPod nano two years ago by members of the Vatican Radio staff. It contains special Vatican Radio broadcasting and classical music.

The trip will give the youngsters a chance to see the larger church in action, their youth ministers said.

"So often they think of the church as just our parish. This will help them see the Catholic Church is universal," said Krissy Brown, 26, of West Deer, who will chaperone a group of seven teens from St. Kilian's Parish.

For the Rev. Joe Carr, one of the Pittsburgh diocese's newest priests, the visit will be special. He'll be among the 1,347 priests, 250 bishops and 15 U.S. cardinals who will concelebrate Mass with the pope.

"I've never been close to anything this big. It's hard to put words to it, that sense of awe at how big the church is," said Carr, 50, assistant pastor at St. John the Baptist in Baden and Good Samaritan in Ambridge.

Carr ran the diocese's programs for the unemployed for almost 20 years and was the last priest ordained by Wuerl as bishop here.

The pope will come to the United States minus the rock star status that surrounded visits by his predecessor, John Paul II, said the Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"I think people will like him. He's not the charismatic actor and presence that John Paul was," Reese said. "He comes across as a teacher. He has a gentle, pastoral demeanor."

The Rev. James Wehner, the rector at St. Paul Seminary who will accompany 13 seminarians from Pittsburgh to Washington, agreed.

"His teaching ability is really attractive and so accessible," he said.

Loretta Hrabovsky, 71, of Ford City said the chance to see Benedict is "the thrill of a lifetime. I am overwhelmed."

A retired nurse, Hrabovsky said she asked her parish priest, the Rev. Edward Lewis of the Christ, Prince of Peace Church, about tickets. Lewis picked up the phone in her presence and placed a call to Greensburg diocesan officials.

"I wanted so badly for it to happen," Hrabovsky said. "When I got the call Thursday that I had two tickets, I couldn't believe it."

The Rev. Anthony W. Ditto of St. Raymond of the Mountains Parish in Donegal said he's been to Rome several times and attended a private Mass and public appearances with Pope John Paul II.

"This is my first opportunity to see a pope outside of the Vatican," said Ditto, who will travel to Washington with several fellow priests from the Diocese of Greensburg. "It's an opportunity to see the pope on our home soil, so to speak."

The Pittsburgh contingent will be on a tight schedule. They will leave Pittsburgh at midnight, and must arrive at their designated parking spaces at RFK Stadium between 6 and 6:30 a.m. April 17. After the Mass, they'll board their buses for the return trip to Pittsburgh.

An additional 100 people from the diocese will travel to New York for the second leg of the papal visit.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik will attend a Mass in each city; Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt is recuperating from surgery and will not attend either Mass.

Additional Information:

By the numbers

It's the hottest ticket in Washington. About 120 dioceses asked for nearly 200,000 tickets for Pope's Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park in the nation's capital during his first papal visit to the United States. About 45,000 people landed the coveted vouchers.

More than 1,300 priests, 250 bishops and 14 U.S. cardinals will concelebrate the Mass.

About 300 priests will assist in delivering communion to the legions of the faithful.

About 570 singers in four choirs will sing in 10 languages, representing the diversity of the Archdiocese of Washington and the country, officials said.

The altar that will help transform the baseball stadium into a church was designed by two Catholic University students.

The 870 news media members who are expected to cover the Mass were selected from an initial list of 5,700 requests.

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