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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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The Pope’s Visit

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon and night talking to people about the papal Mass. Everyone was so excited; I could just hear it in their voices as they spoke. I learned a lot more about Catholics and their devotion to the Pope. Here are some interesting tidbits I learned that I couldn’t fit into the story in today’s paper:

 Andrew Heinlein, a 13-year-old Stafford County homeschooler got up at 4 a.m. to go to the Mass at Nationals Park. When I called his house last night, he and his father were leaving for baseball practice. It was a long day, but Andrew said it was worth it to see the Pope.

So did his father, Steven, who interestingly was one of two non-Catholics I spoke with. Heinlein’s wife and kids are Catholic and he said he has a tremendous reverence for the religion, but he is Lutheran. Still, he woke up at 4 a.m. to take his son to see the pontiff. Because his wife will go to Italy later this Spring and expects to see Pope Benedict XVI then, she let her husband take their seat at the Mass. Heinlein said that as a Lutheran, he still felt inspired by the Pope. "I just really respect him as a great spiritual leader for Christians on earth," he said.

 The other non-Catholic I spoke with actually saw Pope Benedict twice this week. David Bereit is in the process of converting; his wife and kids are Catholic and the entire family belongs to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg. Bereit (pronounced Be-right) scored the extra visit to the Pope’s birthday party on the White House lawn because the Spotsylvania County resident runs a pro-life group. Like Heinlein, Bereit’s ancestors are German. Both men said they felt an affinity for the Pope because of his German background.

Another local resident saw the Pope twice. Caitlin Durham, a senior at Massaponax High School, went to the Mass and then to Catholic University where she and thousands of others waved him off as he departed. Caitlin got the extra visit because she’s going to Catholic University in the fall. For her, the most beautiful moment of the Mass was a procession where a girl in a wheelchair and a boy with Down syndrome walked up to the Pope to present him with gifts. The pontiff hugged the children and blessed them, Caitlin said.

"Whenever you see that kind of love and acceptance and human touch, it touches you and deepens your faith," she said.

For Teresa Byerly of Stafford, this was her third time seeing a Pope. The St. William of York parishioner actually met Pope Pious XXII in 1953, when she was 21 and visiting Italy. She had a private audience, which is a small group visit with the pope. He smiled, shook her hand and blessed her. More than 20 years later, she saw Pope John Paul II drive his Popemobile around the mall at Washington. And yesterday, she saw Pope Benedict in a Mass she described as beautiful and inspirational. She said she just wished the rest of her family could be with her, but tickets to the event were limited.