- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

The arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to the District has sparked much enthusiasm among Catholics, but the event also is being closely followed by members of other religious faiths.

“I think it’s good that the pontiff comes and brings a message of unity,” said David Taylor, 50, and a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington. “There seems to be a spirit of looking at what we have in common.”

Anne Garrett, a St. Paul’s choir soprano, and brother Gene, of Hagerstown, Md., have a special interest in the papal visit as well as the hierarchy of religion.

Thomas John Claggett, a great-grandfather in their family, was the first Episcopal bishop to be consecrated in the United States. Claggett was consecrated in the late 1700s, and his remains are now in the Bethlehem Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral.

“We’re very happy for the Catholics,” Miss Garrett said.

Beyond the excitement, the 81-year-old pope’s visit to the District and New York City also is being treated with reverence and concern.

“I think there are too many issues at the moment,” said Odette Blelock, a Catholic from Rockville. “It is dangerous for people like him to be traveling to foreign countries.”

At St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, the Rev. William Byrne recently led the congregation in a prayer for the pope and his visit.

“Pope Benedict, with his presence here, is a representation of the strength of the church,” said Sister Deirdre Byrne, 50, who frequently comes to Sunday Mass at the church with three other nuns from the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts Mission in Northeast to support Mr. Byrne, Sister Deirdre’s youngest brother.

Sister Licia, 74, has been a nun for 55 years. She said that before Pope Benedict was elected “something in my heart knew he would be.”

“It’s wonderful that he’s coming,” she added.

Sister Rita, a 49-year-old from North Wales, said she is excited to attend the papal Mass with Sister Deirdre and the three others.

“It’s necessary for Americans to see the authority of the church,” she said.

Hwai-Tai Lam sings in the choir at St. Peter’s. Although she was not selected for the choir that will sing at the Mass at Nationals Park, she said the pope coming to the District is “an honor and a blessing” for the city.

Sister Maria Theotokos teaches philosophy, theology and history courses to nuns at Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, in Southeast. The 30-year-old was living in Rome when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. She said she’s excited and blessed “to receive him as a Catholic and as an American.”

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