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Harford residents eager to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia

Harford residents will be joining thousands of others in seeing Pope Francis on his U.S. visit

Dozens of Harford County residents are hoping to get their own glimpse of Pope Francis, or at least be in the same city, later this month.

Several buses will travel from Harford County to Philadelphia, where the pontiff will conclude his first official U.S. visit. The bus pilgrimage is being organized by The Catholic Review on behalf of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Pope Francis is scheduled to be in Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, after visiting Washington, D.C., Sept. 22-24 and New York City on Sept. 25.

A bus being sent by Bel Air's St. Margaret Church is already full, organizer Marie Dekowski said last week. Those interested in attending were being directed to another bus leaving from The John Carroll School.

St. Mark Church in Fallston also has two buses going, a school bus and a coach bus, John Carroll's campus minister Michelle Sullivan said.

In addition, on Sept. 21, John Carroll will host people taking part in a walking pilgrimage from Baltimore to Philadelphia for the papal events.

Sullivan said the Bel Air school will be offering food and showers to the pilgrims, who will spend the night at John Carroll.

"Meeting this Pope is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Pope Francis is such an interesting guy," Wilfred Ikegiofor, a senior at John Carroll, said.

The 16-year-old Joppa resident is one in a group of students from the high school who will be taking the bus to Philadelphia.

Several of the students said they are enthusiastic about Pope Francis showing a different side of the Catholic church and being open to different types of people.

"Usually people in the Catholic church, the stereotype is they are more conservative," Wilfred said, referring to Pope Francis' newly-forged reputation of taking a more liberal stance on social issues.

Most recently, the pope simplified the process by which Catholics can annul their marriages, as announced Sept. 8.

Emma Gromacki, 16, a junior from Forest Hill, also said meeting the pope is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"Even though I am not Catholic, I am Episcopalian, I really find interest in this pope," she said. "He is so open and loving toward a lot of different people."

Edward Brenner, another 16-year-old junior at John Carroll, said he likes Pope Francis' "environmental activism," among other areas of focus.

"He is a very inspiring figure," Edward said about the pontiff.

At St. Margaret, Jennifer Kahoe, who works as a bookkeeper for the parish, is ready for her seat on the St. Margaret bus.

A convert to Catholicism in the early 1990s, Kahoe said she saw Pope John Paul II when he came to Baltimore in 1995.

"I am always excited about the pope," Kahoe said. "There is something about being with thousands or millions of people with the same faith that is energizing. It's just a rare opportunity."

Kahoe said she is "cautiously optimistic" about Pope Francis' approach to things but she likes the direction he is going.

In Philadelphia, "I am just completely open to anything he has to say. I will just be trying to drink it all in," she said.

Michelle Sullivan, who is going on the John Carroll trip with her husband and two daughters, calls it a "historic event."

"We are really excited because I just think the energy in that crowd is going to be pretty amazing," she said, adding she agrees with media references to a "Francis factor" potentially affecting public policy and secular events such as United States presidential election.

"I wanted to go because I do think [Pope] Francis is very popular among the masses. He really gave me a lot of hope in terms of the direction of the church," Sullivan, a Bel Air resident, said. "I love his pastoral approach and how he puts love and mercy above anything else."

Pope Francis has made headlines and earned rare levels of worldwide acclaim for his populist moves and attitudes.

Sullivan called him a "very refreshing and beautiful model" and added she wants to go on this trip particularly because "this pope speaks to me."

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