‘Countdown to Francis’

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Similar to a pep rally for a high school sports team, the gym at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries Sept. 11 was bounding with cheerleaders, students from saint-themed houses in their signature colors, soccer enthusiasts competing in a shootout, and even a "wave" of raised arms in the stands.

More than 700 enthusiastic students and teachers began their "Countdown to Francis" with a video of Pope Francis encouraging young people to be courageous.

The highlight of the event was the reading of the names of 25 students who won the school lottery to see Pope Francis at the White House Sept. 23.

According to Sister Bernadette McManigal, superintendent of Catholic Schools, each diocesan high school received 30 tickets through the Department of Education to the White House ceremony welcoming Pope Francis.

"Each high school chose the students who will attend, using their own criteria," said Sister Bernadette.

After announcing the students' names, Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, principal, recognized five teachers who will accompany the students.

"Be sure to tell him that 'JP' loves Pope Francis," she said.

Sophomore Asya Allen was one of the lucky lottery winners.

"My mom is going to be excited that I get this opportunity," she said. "My grandmother is going to be very jealous."

Think students at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School are ready for the pope's visit? You can see more photos from the "papal pep rally" in this week's issue of the Catholic Herald. #walkwithfrancis #popeinus #popeindcPosted by Arlington Catholic Herald on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Senior Grant Tabler, who recently converted to Catholicism, did not win a ticket, but his younger sister, Morgan, a sophomore, did.

"Morgan tricked me by pulling me out of class with a pass to the principal's office," Grant said. "When we got there, Morgan smiled and said she had won the lottery and wanted me to go in her place. She'd kill me for saying this, but we both teared up. It was a great family moment here at school, made possible by Pope Francis."

The papal pep rally was part of a two-day celebration including prayer, education, music and community. A number of seminars were offered on themes important to Pope Francis, including "Faith and the Family," "Caring for Creation" and "Pope Francis' Year of Mercy."

John Paul is no stranger to papal celebrations. The school chapel's tabernacle was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 U.S. visit. The school's namesake, Pope John Paul II, was beatified in 2011 and canonized in 2014.

Ashleigh Buyers contributed to this report.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015