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Area Catholics rise early to join in exuberant liturgy

The Baltimore Sun

Jack Rosenthal awoke yesterday in a panic. The 16-year-old had overslept, missing the bus to Washington for an event with great historical and spiritual significance to him - Pope Benedict XVI's first Mass in the U.S. as pontiff.

The teen's father rushed him from their Harford County home to Greenbelt to ride the Metro to Nationals Park. The lanky Calvert Hall College student hurried through the security checkpoints and joined tens of thousands of other Catholics gathered in prayer.

That's when he felt the anxiety ebb and a sense of the sacred wash over him.

"I just had chills the entire time," said Jack, a member of St. John the Evangelist in Hydes. "Hearing Pope Benedict speak directly to us, seeing all the people praying together and knowing that we're the future of the church - it's our time to step up."

About 2,500 people from the Baltimore Archdiocese joined in yesterday's exuberant liturgy, singing boisterous hymns and joining in shouts of "Viva il Papa."

Several Marylanders participated in the Mass, including students at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville who served as deacons, and families chosen to bring the bread and wine to the altar to be consecrated.

At the appearance of the popemobile, the congregation of about 45,000 roared. The smiling pontiff took a slow lap around the ball field to greet the faithful, many of whom waved Vatican flags.

In his homily, he spoke of the area's rich Catholic history.

"Our Mass today brings the church in the United States to its roots in nearby Maryland," Pope Benedict said, referring to the Catholic faith of the colony's founder, Lord Baltimore.

"The church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel," he said.

Joining him around the altar in center field were Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien and his three auxiliary bishops, and Cardinal William H. Keeler and retired Bishop William C. Newman.

Many local Catholics traveled to the Mass on the MARC train or in rented buses. Members of Jack Rosenthal's congregation met at the Mountain Road Park and Ride on I-95 in Harford County at 5:30 a.m.

Abby Shimanek, 8, and her brother, Jack, 6, skipped ahead of their father to board the bus. After a head count, Colleen Sisolak, the church's youth minister, led the group in prayer. As the bus pulled out, sleepy-eyed teenagers passed boxes of Munchkins and balled their hoodies into pillows for another hour of sleep.

Jocelyn Daniels, 17, a junior at Maryvale Preparatory School, listened to the soundtrack of the movie Garden State and watched the sunrise through the windows.

"[Pope Benedict] has so much influence, and he can use it for so much good, so I'm really looking forward to see what he will do on this visit," said Jocelyn, a Glen Arm resident. She said she hoped the pope would ask President Bush to seek solutions for crime and poverty in this country as well as a "good way to get out of Iraq."

For Jane Andrews, 44, of Jarrettsville, yesterday was the second time she had had stood in the presence of a pontiff. As a student at Loyola College in the 1980s, she had had an audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Like many Catholics, she said she knew less about Pope Benedict than his charismatic predecessor. But she hoped his visit would energize the church here.

"The American Catholic Church is struggling, and I think that any presence he can have will strengthen it and reawaken people to the church," she said.

Andrews and Kellie Reynolds, 36, a youth minister at nearby St. Stephen's, herded the group of teens into the long line leading to security checkpoints at the stadium.

Tory and Jess Szczawinski, 16-year-old sophomores at Notre Dame Preparatory School, posed for cell phone pictures in their baggy sweats and flip-flops. John Jenkins, 16, a junior at Loyola High School, wrapped a yellow bandana, emblazoned with the message of love that the pontiff directed to youth, around his head.

But the teens grew serious when asked about the Mass. Tory said she planned to pray for her family and friends. John said he hoped the liturgy would help Americans better understand the pope.

An eclectic crowd milled around the stadium before the Mass. Friars clad in brown robes walked next to Secret Service agents in body armor. Nuns in black wimples chatted with people in traditional African garb. Countless children wearing khaki pants or plaid kilts laughed and joked.

On a shuttle to the stadium, Reynolds ran into an old friend, the Rev. Joseph Okech, a member of St. Stephen's sister parish in Mombasa, Kenya, and one of 800 clergy who joined the pontiff in celebrating Mass.

The priest, who is studying for a doctorate at Catholic University, clutched red and white vestments on his lap as he sat on the shuttle. "I feel privileged and honored to co-celebrate with the Vicar of Christ here on Earth," he said.

Outside the stadium on Half Street, hundreds who did not have tickets for the Mass craned their necks to watch the events unfolding on a jumbo TV screen.

Tim and Janet Frederick of Plymouth, Mich., squinted in the sun, their seven young children sitting at their feet. Jose Torrico, 26, a Peruvian immigrant who lives in Gaithersburg, videotaped the broadcast.

Others wove through the crowd waving signs and shouting slogans decrying the Catholic Church for what they consider to be beliefs contrary to Jesus' teachings.

Ruben Israel, 45, a street preacher who flew in from Los Angeles, wore an "Ask me why you deserve hell" T-shirt and carried a sign warning that "music sinners," "apathetic pew warmers" and "rebellious women" would be judged by God.

Vendors peddled posters, T-shirts and mugs emblazoned with the pontiff's image. The voices of protesters and hawkers joined in a cacophony:

"Terrorist attacks predicted in the Book of Revelations!"

"Shirts! Five bucks!"

"Where are you going to spend eternity?"

Afterward, on the bus again, the youth from St. John's said they were energized by an experience so intense that it was hard to put their feelings into words. They passed around bags of candy and potato chips and then, bending their heads together, began to sing a hymn.

"So here I am to worship," they sang a little off-key. "Here I am to bow down. Here I am to say that you're my God."

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