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Holy Communion from pope's hand 60 of 50,000 worshipers expected at service are selected for honor


THE 50,000 PEOPLE WHO are expected to attend the papal Mass undoubtedly consider themselves lucky, but 60 of them are doubly blessed: They will receive Holy Communion from the hand of Pope John Paul II.

About 300 priests, deacons and seminarians will distribute communion to the Camden Yards congregation, but only the five dozen will receive it from the pope. Twenty people were selected for the honor from each of the three regions, or vicariates, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. For the select few, it will be an incomparable spiritual moment.

"We both about cried when we heard the news," said Ed Reaver, who along with his wife, Helen, is a member of St. Anthony's parish in Emmitsburg. "We just couldn't believe it. We just couldn't understand how we could be so lucky.

"It's better than winning the Maryland lottery, I'll tell you that," said Mr. Reaver, a member of the parish council who works part time at St. Anthony's doing maintenance work. "To me it is."

Mrs. Reaver said that when she received a call at work informing her she had been chosen to receive communion from the pope, she was sure it was a practical joke. But the archdiocesan officials who called her insisted the news was genuine. "Well, I about fell off the chair," Mrs. Reaver said.

"It would be almost like meeting Christ," she said. "He's the next best thing to meeting God. I personally don't think that I'm worthy enough."

In selecting those who will receive communion from the pope, the three regional bishops solicited recommendations from pastors about people who were active in volunteering in their parishes.

"These are people who have been there for years and years for their pastors," said Bill Blaul, an archdiocesan spokesman. "They're not big-money people."

The pope's communicants will sit together in some of the best seats for the Mass on the field. They had to submit Social Security numbers for security checks.

Peggy and Herb Sprankle of Catonsville were to receive the Eucharist from the pope at last year's papal Mass, which was canceled because Pope John Paul had not sufficiently recovered from a hip operation.

"Like everyone else, we were extremely disappointed," Mr. Sprankle said. But when Pope John Paul rescheduled, the Sprankles were put back on the list. "We're hoping nothing will happen to him that he wouldn't be able to make it this year," he said.

The Sprankles seemed almost embarrassed that they would be singled out from others in their parish, St. Mark's in Catonsville.

"The thing Herb and I feel most sincerely is there are so many people at St. Mark's that are worthy of this," Mrs. Sprankle said. Not many people in their parish even know how close they'll get to the pope.

"We feel so bad that there are other people that would like to be in our shoes that we haven't spread it around at St. Mark's," Mrs. Sprankle said.

William and Joanna Baird of Ruxton will be representing the parishioners of the Cathedral of Mary our Queen in the pope's communion line. Sunday will be the second time they will see the pope.

"We were in Rome in November with the cardinal when he received his hat, and of course, we had an audience with a cast of hundreds and got close to the pope, but had no contact per se," Mr. Baird said. "So this is a real treat."

Mr. Baird said he and his wife are gathering prayer requests, which Catholics call special intentions, of their friends and family. They will offer these prayers as they receive communion.

"We've had people call and ask for special intentions," Mr. Baird said. "We do have many intentions, not for ourselves - because we've been very blessed - but for a lot of folks who aren't as fortunate as we are."

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