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Twenty-five Juneau youths will be in Rome next week when Pope John Paul II welcomes 2 million Catholic teen-agers from around the world to the World Youth Day celebrations.
Judy Hokey, director of youth ministry at St. Paul's Catholic Church in the Mendenhall Valley, attended the last World Youth Day in France. She can't wait to go back.
``At the closing mass, we were surrounded by people from different countries, and just to see the mass amount of people that gathered for the event was totally empowering,'' she said. ``(It) just gave you a sense of the church being totally universal.''
The pope founded World Youth Day in 1985. The 2000 event, which begins Aug. 15, celebrates a ``jubilee'' year, said Hokey. According to the Old Testament, jubilee year occurs every 50 years and is traditionally a time of forgiveness.
``Because it is a jubilee year, they're thinking it's really going to draw a lot of people,'' Hokey said.
The week of activities will include teaching sessions that address different movements within the church and questions of faith, inspirational speakers, musical and theatrical productions, and a massive closing night pilgrimage and vigil.
``The pope is present at the vigil and the Mass,'' Hokey said. ``It's really cool. It's really very affirming and very encouraging to the youth. It really speaks about how important they are to the church and just really makes them feel appreciated.''
The pope's presence is a draw for 16-year-old Jessica Hadfield.
``I'm excited about seeing the pope, because he's just such a big part of the church,'' she said. ``And being with thousands of other Catholic youth my age, that'll be neat.''
``It sounds like a lot of fun and a chance to meet a lot of people from all over the world and maybe share our faith,'' 16-year-old Everett Buyarski added.
The Juneau attendees are leaving a week early to tour Italy. Though the added trip time has boosted costs to about $3,000 for each teen, they said it seems worth it.
``I've never been out of North America before, so I don't really know what to expect,'' 16-year-old Josh Zwingelberg said.
His parents encouraged him to start fund raising, and though many of his peers dropped out, he stuck with it. He's looking forward to ``seeing all the stuff there, all the old sites and all the artwork and stuff.''
``I've never been around that many people that share the same faith before,'' he added.
Highlights of the tour will include visiting the birthplace of St. Francis and seeing the Shroud of Turin, a cloth believers think wrapped Jesus' body after he died and retains his image.
``That only comes out every 10 years or (so),'' Hokey said. ``We're going to be there.''
Hokey said another thrill will come on closing night during the final Mass. She and Jesse Gemmell, youth coordinator for the diocese, have been asked to be among those serving as eucharistic ministers -- distributing the wine and wafers, considered the body and blood of Christ, to the millions in attendance.
``I'm excited,'' Hokey said. ``They need 4,000 eucharistic ministers for the Mass. ... I volunteered and am possibly going to have a chance to be closer and be up front during the Mass and get close to the pope. It's going to be awesome.''