Orange County residents head east for papal visit

Just last fall, Yvonne Tran and Shaun Nguyen stood five feet away from Pope Benedict XVI during a pilgrimage to Rome. The pope's presence left the Anaheim Hills couple awe-struck and inspired.

When they learned they could see the pope again, the couple jumped at the chance to travel to the East Coast. The two also agreed to renew vows for their 22nd wedding anniversary during their weeklong trip.

"I've been very devoted to the Catholic Church," said Tran, a 49-year-old public health nurse. "The reason I'm going on this trip is to renew our faith and see the pope."

The pope's first trip to the U.S. as pontiff is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors this week to Washington, D.C., and New York City, where he will visit national and religious leaders and preside over stadium-filled Masses.

More than 200 Orange County Catholics, including 125 Vietnamese American parishioners, 50 other community members and Orange diocesan representatives, are expected to travel to hear the pope's message.

"All Catholics care about the pope because he's the visible leader of our church," said Bishop Tod D. Brown, head of the Diocese of Orange. "He is a focal point, and I think because of that, in any organization or grouping, you're going to listen to the top leader."

Brown said he expects to hear a message of hope, the contributions that Catholics make in the country and the necessity of passing on the faith. The pope's visit will be a positive one for the church after the sexual abuse scandals, Brown said.

"I think that our church is just beginning to move beyond that now," said Brown, who has met the pontiff twice.

The pope's six-day itinerary begins with his arrival Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base and continues with meetings with political and religious leaders throughout the week, celebrating his 81st birthday Wednesday, celebrating Masses in Washington, D.C., and New York City, addressing Catholic educators and the United Nations, and blessing Ground Zero, a site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The pope, who was elected to the papacy in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II, visited the U.S. five times as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

"I'm going to listen with suspense," said the Rev. Gerald Horan, vicar for faith formation and superintendent of schools for the diocese. "There's a certain level of historic quality to this because we've certainly never had this pope in our country before."

"He is the worldwide spiritual leader of Catholics across the nation," added Horan, who is attending the pontiff's address to educators Thursday. "And Catholic or not, I think the message that he's made … love and hope are calling us back to the basics of the Gospel."

Robert Hamra and his wife, Ramza, of Villa Park will travel to New York City to attend a Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20. The couple is among a select group of Orange diocesan guests with a ticket to the event, to which tens of thousands of people have sought to go.

"It's mainly to show support of our faith and to be there and be a part of it," said Robert Hamra, 71, a retired optometrist. "It's something that's very positive. Whenever a religious leader comes to the states, it's positive."

"It's a matter of faith and uplifting for the community and people," he added.

(Source: Ellyn Pak /The Orange County Register)