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Long journey 'worth it' for W. Maryland Catholics Some boarded charter bus in Oakland at 4 a.m., to return after dark THE POPE IN BALTIMORE


OAKLAND -- For Charles and Sharon Bowman and a few dozen other Roman Catholics in the Western Maryland mountains, the chance to see the pope yesterday meant skipping sleep or rising very early for the trip to Baltimore.

The Bowmans' long day began at 2:45 a.m. They had to be up early to feed the pigs, their dog and ready themselves to catch a Baltimore-bound bus in Oakland, 14 miles from their Swanton home.

"I would have gotten up earlier if I had to," said Mr. Bowman, 35, a truck driver whose career on the road has numbed him to early hours and little sleep. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Pope John Paul is partially what drew me back to the church."

For the parishioners of St. Peter's Church and other small Catholic churches in Garrett County, it was a long day -- probably the longest for any of the tens of thousands people who converged on Baltimore for the papal Mass and parade. Counting the round-trip bus ride, the Mass, free time in the city and a dinner stop during their return, riders weren't expecting to be home until well after dark.

St. Peter's has the distinction of being the Archdiocese of Baltimore's westernmost parish -- and farthest from Baltimore.

The charter bus left the 143-year-old stone church at 4 a.m., motoring eastward on Route 135 along and down Backbone Mountain, passing darkened grocery stores, lumber yards and homes. Only a few gas stations and conveniences stores were open.

The Rev. F. Richard Spencer, St. Peter's pastor, sent his flock on its way with a "continental breakfast" -- brown bags packed with apples, juice, crackers, miniature candy bars and jelly rolls. Father Spencer, who did not make the trip (he had Sunday Masses to conduct), packed the bags himself.

The priest boarded the bus for just a few minutes to offer prayers and wish the travelers a safe trip. "You're off to an exciting and historic day," he said.

"God bless you. The parish will be praying for you."

Some considered such an early start just a small sacrifice.

"I feel what we're doing today is very little compared to what the pope does," said Rita Hart, a retired music teacher.

For Angel Simms, 21, a Frostburg State University education major, the day was especially long because she skipped sleep. Ms. Simms returned home from an anti-abortion conference just two hours before the bus left.

"I changed clothes, switched bags and got on the bus," Ms. Simms, a Sunday school teacher, said.

"I was too excited to sleep."

Her group included Loretta Kiedrowski, a 34-year-old homemaker from McHenry, who tossed and turned Saturday night. Mrs. Kiedrowski's husband, James, expected to accompany her, but a baby-sitter canceled at the last minute and he stayed home with the kids.

"I really didn't want to come by myself," she said. "I got up at 2 and went back to bed for a half-hour. Then I thought about it and got back up."

In Westernport, about 20 miles east of Oakland, the bus picked up 20 or so more riders from the Allegany County coal-mining town's Catholic church, also named St. Peter's.

"It's worth it," said Ethel Schaeffer, a retired homemaker in Westernport. "Some of us senior citizens are used to getting up early for trips. I feel lucky just to have a ticket."

Her friends, Betty Jackson and Regina Rigsby, boarded the bus with a thermos of hot coffee and a cooler filled with sandwiches. The early hour posed no problem for them, either.

"This is something you tell your children and your grandchildren about," said Mrs. Rigsby, a retired secretary.

"This is going to be quite an experience."

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