- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

Catholics eager for the arrival next month of Pope Benedict XVI helped create overflow crowds at Easter Sunday services across the region.

More than 1,400 worshippers filled the pews and aisles for the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest, and about 300 more were turned away because of overcrowding concerns.

“More people always come at Easter but many may have come yesterday because [of] the pope,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl celebrated the noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast before a crowd of more than 4,000, Miss Gibbs said.

The pope is scheduled to visit the District for three days next month, starting April 15. On April 17, a day after his 81st birthday, he will celebrate Mass at the new Nationals Park baseball stadium. It will be Benedict’s first visit to the United States as pope.

While in the District, Benedict is scheduled to meet with President Bush.

He will depart April 18 for New York City, where he will speak before the U.N. General Assembly and meet with leaders of other religions, including Buddhism, Hindu, Judaism and Islam. His U.S. trip concludes April 20.

The most recent papal visit to the United States was in 1999, when John Paul II visited St. Louis. His last visit to the District was in October 1979.

Archbishop Wuerl yesterday did not center his message on the pope, but instead used the pulpit to declare, “We come together to celebrate the Resurrection. Here is an act of faith. … We need to renew our pledge against sin.”

Much of the congregation is Asian and Hispanic, the largest growing segment of the Catholic Church.

Worshippers arrived for the Easter services smartly dressed, many with children in tow — a few hastily rushed outside to calm their crying. Clouds of light smoke and the thick aroma of burning incense emerged from pots, carried by the archbishop and priests.

At the basilica, 24 singers and instrumentalists led the congregation in singing the Lord’s Prayer.

The Rev. Amos Dodge, pastor of the Capital Church of Vienna, Va., led the 30th annual Easter sunrise service on the Mall. Hundreds of worshippers, bundled up to brave the chilly weather, gathered for the celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington estimated an Easter crowd of 600, and other churches across the region also reported heavy attendance.

Easter celebrations will continue today with the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. It is the largest public event at the White House and attracts nearly 40,000 visitors each year.

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