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 CNS Story:

POPE-VOLUNTEERS Apr-24-2008 (790 words) xxxn

Papal trip volunteers impress nuns with their generosity, spirit

By Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Any of the tens of thousands of people who saw New York's papal events in person or even those who came no closer to Pope Benedict XVI than their living-room television can attest to the precision with which the papal itinerary seemed to unfold.

Among those who helped pull that off were 3,000 volunteers coordinated under the watchful and loving scrutiny of Sisters Joan Curtin, 63, and Deanna Sabetta, 67, who are both Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

"Cardinal Egan appointed us because of our experience working with volunteers," explained Sister Joan.

She is in charge of the New York Archdiocese's Catechetical Office and oversees 10,000 volunteer catechists in the 10 counties that make up the archdiocese. Sister Deanna is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations and the teacher volunteer program, which places teachers in inner-city Catholic schools.

"The papal volunteers were the most gracious, generous people I've ever come across," Sister Joan said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "The hours didn't matter to them."

Duties for the volunteers included standing outside St. Patrick's Cathedral April 19 to guide cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and women religious attending the papal Mass there and helping move people from chartered buses, city buses and the subway into Yankee Stadium April 20.

"Each volunteer worked six- to seven-hour shifts. In the case of the youth rally in Yonkers, (many) didn't leave the site until 11 p.m.," said Sister Deanna, referring to the rally for seminarians and young people at St. Joseph's Seminary.

"It was a pleasure to work in any way I could," said Felix Bernard, 43, one of the red-jacketed volunteers who assisted at the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium.

A native of the Dominican Republic, he is a parishioner and catechist at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

"It was wonderful to volunteer. I was not just volunteering to help people at Yankee Stadium; I was volunteering to help with the pope's visit," he said. "It was incredible to welcome people to the stadium and to feel their faith in Jesus Christ."

Bernard added, "I didn't expect that he'd talk about so many topics in his homilies and other speeches, but he did. He decried all of the problems that face us, and he gave us the means to help work toward those goals."

Sister Deanna noted that "many of the volunteers who served outside of the papal venues (were) simply physically very far away from the pope, answering questions or guiding the lost, and thus didn't actually see him."

But still they helped out because "they just wanted to be in proximity to him," explained Sister Joan.

Lyn Monteith, 37, was in the group that never saw the pope.

The parishioner from Immaculate Conception in New York's Greenwich Village was outside the stadium directing and assisting the pilgrims on their way to and from the Mass.

"Even though I didn't get inside to see the pope or even to attend Mass, it was an honor to be here," she said, adding that she was "happy to participate even in this small way to be a part of the pope's visit. It's been a wonderful atmosphere of peace and unity."

Sister Joan said the volunteers impressed her "with their generosity and their tremendous spirit. They had many obstacles. They were just honored to serve."

"Many of the volunteers who assisted in this project told me they were profoundly moved by this experience," added Sister Deanna. "The volunteers were all so happy to be a part of the event. I've received dozens of phone calls and e-mails from them thanking us for the opportunity to serve."

She said the volunteers have "re-energized my faith."

Both nuns were thrilled that they received Communion from the pope, and even though, like many people, they didn't know much about Pope Benedict before he came, they could see he is "brilliant" and has an "incredible pastoral side," said Sister Deanna.

The U.S. papal visit is "a great foundation for all who were involved. Both volunteers and those who attended the events," she said. "Our country has been given a wonderful renewed hope."

Added Sister Joan: "He presented Jesus Christ as the hope for the future and we should build upon that."

"We can't let this be a one-shot deal," added Sister Deanna, saying that Catholics must work to pass on the faith and encourage others to serve the church.

"(We have) to keep remembering what we experienced during the pope's visit. We have to keep the message alive. It's up to us to carry that message forward into the future," she said.

END


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