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Local students travel to see pope

Tess Civantos | Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NEW YORK – A group of 13 students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s trekked to New York this weekend to attend the Youth Rally with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday and the Papal Mass on Sunday at Yankee Staduim.

The students left the Inn at Saint Mary’s Friday evening and drove through the night until they arrived at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., on Saturday morning, joining a crowd of over 25,000 people.

While waiting, the students heard brief performances by Kelly Clarkson, Three Graces and Father Stan, the rapping priest.

“It was amazing how people were just relaxing and enjoying the bright sunny day until the pope got there, and as soon as he arrived everyone was just drawn into his presence,” freshman Brittani Russell said.

When the pope arrived, he drove through the crowds in a bulletproof “pope-mobile” mounted on the back of a pick-up truck.

“Only in the USA would the pope-mobile be on a pick-up truck,” senior Bridget Higgins said.

The entire crowd treated the pope to a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in German, using a pronunciation guide in the program, as the Holy Father listened from the stage.

“I wish to acknowledge your singing to me ‘Happy Birthday,'” the pope said. “Thank you for this moving gesture. I give you all an ‘A plus’ for your German pronunciation.”

The pope spoke of his own youth under the “sinister regime” of Nazism and encouraged young people to seek “the truth about what is good” and to be “guiding stars” for others by walking in the way of Christ.

“What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God,” he said. “Take courage.”

The Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students in attendance reacted favorably to the pope’s speech.

“I really liked that the Holy Father didn’t say that we are the future of the Church. He said that we are the Church. That’s an encouraging message to hear,” Higgins said.

The next morning, the students traveled to Yankee Stadium to hear the pope say mass. Over 60,000 people attended the ceremony.

“It really showed the strength and unity of the Church to see so many people united like that,” Russell said. “Not only that, but it was incredible to hear Mass from the Vicar of Christ, the direct successor to St. Peter. I love being Catholic.”

Following the Mass, the Notre Dame and St. Mary’s students boarded their bus and traveled back to Indiana.

“It was the best weekend ever,” Higgins said.