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Group from St. Michael Catholic Church will see pope, attend Mass at Yankee Stadium
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0418 POPE

Hear Father Okeke talk about the pope’s place in the Catholic church and read the verse that sets up the place of the pope in the Catholic church.
A group of Gainesville Catholics are on their way to worship with Pope Benedict XVI during his first trip to the United States since he was named the head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005.

The group, about 26 members of St. Michael Catholic Church, are headed to New York to attend a papal Mass Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

St. Michael’s parochial vicar
Father Kizito Okeke calls the group’s attendance at the papal Mass a celebration of their faith with the entire church family.

"The pope is like the father of the Christian faith ... the importance of the (papal) Mass is like the family is complete; you have the pope, you have the bishops, you have the priests, you have the cardinal — you have the complete family," Okeke said. "We are going to welcome the father of the Christian faith, the father of the Christian world."

"To celebrate the Eucharist with him is like being with our father, our father being with his children and we are celebrating that most important gift of Christ, the gift of the Eucharist ... (Jesus Christ’s) most precious body and His most precious blood," Okeke said.

The youth group loaded buses Thursday night after planning the trip for a year, Okeke said. The group was able to go free of charge, because of the donations from their other church members who thought it was important for them to see the pope on his first apostolic journey to the United States. Other members of St. Michael will travel to Australia to see the pope when he journeys there from the Vatican in July.

Hearing the pope speak, or attending a papal Mass, is important in the Catholic faith, Okeke said, because of what the pope means to Catholics.

"The pope remains the greatest symbol of the oneness of this Church," Okeke said. "Most importantly, he stands for the truth."

To Catholics, when the pope speaks in his capacity as pope, his words are infallible, Okeke said.

"The pope is seen as one who doesn’t want to be politically correct, he wants to speak the truth. That is why so many people love him," said Okeke. "We not only love him, we trust him."

The trip should encourage the youth of St. Michael to participate in the Catholic celebration of Mass, Okeke said, because participating in a papal Mass will show them the joy of Catholicism.

"(The joy of being Catholic is that) we have somebody like the pope that stands for God, that speaks God’s works, not minding whether he will be accepted or rejected," Okeke said. The trip to New York is the Gainesville group’s chance "to welcome him and celebrate our faith together right here in America," Okeke said.

The St. Michael youth group is a part of about 500 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Atlanta who are traveling to see the Pope in New York during his apostolic journey to the United States this week.