Students Prepping for Papal Visit
Catholic School Children Highlight Area's Religious History in Video for Pope

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

If Pope Benedict XVI cannot make it to St. Clement's Island during his April visit to the Washington area, then the children of Southern Maryland's Catholic schools will bring it to him.

Thirty-six students, ranging from kindergartners to eighth-graders, from the dozen Catholic primary schools in St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert counties joined forces last week to create a two-minute video to welcome the pope to the area.

Their tape will compete against videos from other Catholic youth programs and schools throughout the Washington, Baltimore and Arlington archdioceses for a grand prize: 15 tickets to attend the pope's April 17 Mass at the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium. The winning video may be shown on the stadium's big screen.

"If I win, I get to see the pope, and I've always wanted to see the pope," said Alexis Swann, 10, a fifth-grader at St. Michael's School in Ridge.

"We're going to be on the Jumbotron!" said John Bullock, 11, a fifth-grader at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons.

The latter may not have been among the principals' and teachers' motivations for uniting the schools on a trip that shows off Maryland's history.

"With our area being the cradle of Catholicism for Maryland, wouldn't it be a neat idea to get the kids together at the historic sites?" said Linda Maloney, principal of Father Andrew White, S.J. School in Leonardtown, referring to the idea that launched the effort.

"It sort of all evolved. We ended up with three sites and decided on four schools to go to each site," said Pat Suit, mastermind of the project and principal at St. John's School in Hollywood. "We try to operate as a group down here," she said of the local Catholic schools.

The children made stops at St. Clement's Island, off the shores of St. Mary's County; historic St. Mary's City; and St. Ignatius Church at Chapel Point in Charles County. All are historic sites for Marylanders and Catholics.

Father Andrew White performed "the first Mass of the 13 colonies" at St. Clement's, said Brianna Brophy, 12, a seventh-grader at Cardinal Hickey Academy in Owings. "He taught a lot of people about religion here and a lot of people about the new world," she said during her group's visit to the island last week.

A 40-foot cross, erected in 1934, stands on the island to commemorate that first Mass, celebrated on March 25, 1634. The island also is home to the Blackistone Lighthouse.

St. Mary's City "was the first capital of Maryland." It was founded when the new colonists moved there shortly after their ships, the Ark and the Dove, landed on St. Clement's, said Anthony Branch, 14, an eighth-grader at St. Michael's School.

During his group's visit to Historic St. Mary's City, Anthony pointed to the Brick Chapel of 1667, which is being reconstructed, and explained that it was one of the first Catholic churches in the English colonies.

"It resembles a cross from a bird's-eye view," said Timothy Cooper, 10, a fourth-grader at St. Michael's, who explained that Maryland's colonial charter was one of the first to offer religious freedom.

Students from Catholic schools in Charles County highlighted the importance of St. Ignatius Church at Chapel Point, which was established by White in 1641.

This history is what they will offer Pope Benedict XVI in their video, the students said.

"He's never been around here, and it is important to show him our history," said fifth-grader John Bullock.

"He should know more about the places he's spreading the word to," said Julian Ortiz, 13, an eighth-grader at Little Flower School in Great Mills.

It was a learning experience for the children, too.

"I think it is cool because I get to see some history stuff," said Elizabeth Morgan, 7, a second-grader at Our Lady Star of the Sea.

More important, it gave the students an opportunity "to get excited about the pope coming" and "to have a stake" in the festivities, said Terri Taylor, the video producer and a teacher at St. John's School.

Taylor's husband, David Taylor of Phocus Video Communications in Lexington Park, served as the group's cameraman.

Eighth-grader Alex Wyvill, 13, of Andrew White School, said some of his classmates had been selected to perform in the youth choir for the papal visit, but he was not one of them.

"I didn't think I would be involved at all," Wyvill said. "It means a lot to me."

Several students said the chance to take a personal message to the pope was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," as Jude Luke, 8, a third-grader at Andrew White School, described it.

"I think it is special because [Pope Benedict XVI] is the closest person to Jesus. It is almost like making a video for Jesus," said Angela Wilt, 12, a seventh-grader at Holy Angels Sacred Heart in Avenue.

Mayokun Ojo, 12, a seventh-grade student at Mother Catherine Spalding in Helen, agreed.

"He is so important. We're just normal people," he said.

Kathy Dempsey, assistant director of communication for the Archdiocese of Washington, said she has seen "lots of interest" but does not know how many of the two-minute videos will arrive on her desk. Winners will be chosen April 2, she said.

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