Local priest headed to see Pope Benedict XVI

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Pope Benedict XVI arrived Tuesday to the United States, his first visit after becoming pope. Now, many Christians look forward to making the visit to see him, but not everybody gets that chance.

WVLT Volunteer TV's Blount County Bureau Chief Stephen McLamb caught up with an Alcoa priest who is getting that opportunity.

"If they will hear his voice and follow his advice, I think this world and this country will be a better place," Catholic Tony Hartman said.

Catholics like Tony Hartman and Christians alike are looking forward to Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in the United States. Not many from east Tennessee will get that chance. Just a few were available to area priests. Alcoa's Our Lady of Fatima pastor, Father John B. O'Neill was one of the lucky ones getting the news on Tuesday.

"It was hugely exciting. We were at the Bishop's office for our weekly meeting and the secretary came out and said, You have two tickets. And I said, when do I go? And she said, tomorrow," Father O'Neill said.

Father O'Neill says seeing the Pope creates a very special feeling....one with the realization that dates back to the death of Jesus Christ.

"But as a Catholic priest, we radically believe ....Wow...you are in the presence of the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle," Father O'Neill said.

Father O'Neill knows it will be tiresome in getting there and crowded when they arrive, but for a priest, he will get a chance to not just see, but participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

"Every priest will say the words of consecration with Pope Benedict and that is definitely the biggest deal. We will celebrate Mass with the Pope as co-celebrants," O'Neill said.

Alcoa's priest says he hopes the papal visit will be beneficial to both Catholics.

"He helps people to say what it means to be a Catholic, how to explain it to other people," O'Neill said.

And for the rest of the nation as well.

"Popes are international figures and they have a message for everyone," O'Neill said.

Father O'Neill plans to be back from the visit to Washington on Friday.

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