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Pope Joins Young Pilgrims for Picnic

July 27, 2002

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ORILLIA, Ontario (AP) _ A Jordanian asked him to pray for peace. A young woman from the Bronx told him about living in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks. A Kenyan performed a native dance.

Fourteen young Catholic pilgrims joined Pope John Paul II for lunch Friday on Strawberry Island, his secluded retreat in the lake district north of Toronto during World Youth Day.

Over salad, pasta and chocolate cake, the pope led them in prayer, asked about their backgrounds and then joined them in song.

``I told him about being in New York on Sept. 11,″ said Robin Cammarota of the Bronx,

``He said it was a terrible tragedy″ and would keep us in his prayers, said the 19-year-old Hunter College student.

Cammarota shares the same birthdate, May 18, as the 82-year-old pope, perhaps the reason they all broke into ``Happy Birthday.″

``He ate more than I did. He really cleaned his plate,″ she said.

Sangeetha Joseph, 25, from India, said ``He was so lovely, like a father sitting with his little daughter.″

``I asked him to pray for peace,″ said Gizelle Michael Nijmeh, a 25-year-old Palestinian from Jordan.

The group arrived under a light rain after what papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called a ``bumpy″ boat ride on Lake Simcoe.

Anneke Pehmoller of Germany said the pope seemed particularly upbeat when they sang several songs _ including tunes from the Beatles and John Denver _ while sitting around the wooden dining table.

``I think he enjoyed it because there was life in it,″ she said.

A pilgrim from Bosnia, Ana-Maria Cagalj, said John Paul recalled his visits to Sarajevo and Croatia and said he ``plans to visit again.″

The pope is expected in Croatia in the spring for a beatification.

John Paul watched through the window of the cottage as 21-year-old Daniel Sadera Kuntai, in a traditional red patterned blanket, performed a Maasai dance on the lawn.

Three of the youngsters came from Canada, others were from Sudan, China, Australia, Peru, Bosnia and Tahiti.

Vatican officials said the idea for the lunch came from World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, when 10 youngsters stayed in the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo.

Shirley Tso, 26, from Hong Kong, a teacher, became a Catholic at age 13.

``It is my greatest honor in my whole life. After I became Catholic, I never dreamed I would have lunch with the pope,′ she said.

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