Pope-Sioux 1stLd-Writethru 04-16 Web

Youth group arrives for Mass

When Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in the nation’s capital today, a small church group from a North Dakota Indian reservation will mark the end of its two-year quest to see the pontiff.

Members of St. Michael’s parish on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation formed a youth group in 2006 and immediately began holding fundraisers with the goal of seeing the pope.

At first, they hoped to see him at World Youth Day in Australia, but that proved too expensive. Then the group set its sights on Rome, until learning that Benedict planned to visit Washington and New York.

"We’re just a little tiny parish in the middle of the reservation," said Kelly Gannon, who attends the church in St. Michael, on the Sioux reservation about 120 miles northwest of Fargo. Her son and daughter are in the youth group.


When the Diocese of Fargo offered St. Michael’s 16 of the diocese’s 22 tickets to the Mass in Washington, the group celebrated with KFC chicken in the church basement.

"It freaked us out," Gannon said. "Everybody is so pumped."

An estimated 46,000 people are expected to attend the Mass at Nationals Park baseball stadium, and 300 priests plan to distribute communion to the crowd.

On Monday, the St. Michael’s group began its journey with a long drive to the Fargo airport. By that night, the members streamed out of Reagan National Airport in Washington. For many, it was their first trip to the capital, and for some, the first time on a plane.

After arriving, they showed off photos of the reservation that featured buffalo, horses, a vast prairie and an enormous pile of corn.

"Just imagine nothing, flatness, and then one tree way in the background," Gannon said, laughing.

Her son, Colby, used rare diamond willow driftwood to make a walking stick to give to the pope.

His mother added the finishing touches, wrapping beads in a variety of colors around the handle. They planned to pass the stick to a priest, who could give it to the Vatican’s U.S. envoy and then to the pontiff.


"I’d still be honored even if he did just put it in a room full of all of his exotic gifts that he receives from the edges of the earth," Colby said as he unwrapped the stick in his hotel room in Arlington, Va., just outside Washington. "But I’d be happier knowing that he actually uses it once in a while if he goes on walks."

The group also has another gift for Benedict, who turned 81 on Wednesday. It is a satin star quilt that features a mosaic of cloth diamonds shaped into the traditional star design of the Sioux.

A message sewn in at the bottom reads: "Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict XVI, April 16, 2008, From St. Michael’s Youth Group, St. Michael’s, N.D., USA."

Gannon’s daughter, 16-year-old Lilisa, said she was excited to see Benedict because of his international influence.

"I know how many people he’s touched ... and what he does for other people throughout the whole entire world," she said. "And it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s going to be awesome."

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