WASHINGTON – With a smile stretching from cheek to cheek, Dulce Ahyde Romero, 13, from Silver Spring, Md., can barely contain her excitement.
The eighth-grader is one of five lucky students from Sacred Heart Catholic School in Washington who will be welcoming Pope Francis Tuesday when he arrives at Joint Base Andrews.
Dulce, who was randomly chosen from about 200 students, remembers finding out she was selected to greet the pope in person.
“I got in the car, and my mom was talking on the phone with my grandma, and she was so happy because my principal had just told her,” said Dulce, whose parents are from Mexico. “I was so surprised, and excited, and a little bit nervous, because he’s such an important person to me.”
“It’s a great honor,” she said, “because he’s one of the first Spanish-speaking popes.”
Other schools, teachers and students around the city are also getting ready to participate in the pope’s visit.
“I’ve been talking to them about why it’s such a big deal that the pope is coming and answering any questions they have,” Julie Penndorf, 37, director of campus ministry at DeMatha Catholic High School, said.
Penndorf, who has been a faculty member at the Hyattsville, Md., school for 14 years, said many of her students thought Pope Francis was changing the church and rewriting its rules. She assured them he wasn’t, but that he is changing the tone.
“It had become a place where only the voices of the elite were being heard,” Penndorf said. “Francis seems to have turned that on its head and seems to be going right for the young and the poor and the less fortunate.”
All of which are themes the pope is likely to address during his six-day trip to the United States.
Jack Von Kannon, 17, a senior at DeMatha, was offered a ticket to attend the formal arrival ceremony at the White House on Wednesday and to be on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Thursday. There, big TV screens will show the pope’s speech to Congress. The pope is expected to make a brief appearance on a balcony to greet the spectators.
Jack turned it down.
His father, who was Catholic, died two weeks ago after being diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2014.
“I know my dad would have really wanted me to go,” Jack said. “I wanted to give other people the opportunity to go.”
Instead, Jack plans to watch the events on TV with his classmates.
This is the kind of selflessness the Rev. George Kintiba, 49, from Archbishop Carroll High School, said he hopes his students learn from the pope’s visit. The school is part of the larger campus that includes Catholic University and the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the pope will say Mass on Wednesday.
“Great people are always humble,” said Kintiba, a campus minister who teaches theology at Archbishop Carroll. “The work that they do cannot go unnoticed.”
Students will not attend school Wednesday. Instead, they’ll be peppered across the city feeding homeless people, helping in nursing homes and visiting sick people in hospitals.
“This is a chance for them to see what kind of activities you can get involved in, and what they can do to you as an individual,” said Kintiba, who lives in Washington and has been a priest for 19 years.
Back at Sacred Heart, Jocelyn Marlene Aquino, 12, from Silver Spring, Md., said Pope Francis has motivated her to be a better person.
“Helping is actually a good thing, maybe just not for yourself but for other people,” the seventh-grader said. Jocelyn will also be at the military base when the pope arrives.
“He is sending the message of God and Jesus to the whole world. He inspires me to be a better person, to help out more, and to love everybody,” she said.
Reach reporter Matias J. Ocner at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: Pope-kids.zip