Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Auxiliary Bishops Francisco Gonzalez and Martin Holley stand with members of the Archdiocese of Washington's Papal Visit Planning Committee who received papal honors at a Nov. 14 Mass at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Church, N.W. Standing from left to right are: Jane Belford, William Groman, Msgr. Barry Knestout, Thomas Burnford, Bishop Gonzalez, Archbishop Wuerl, Bishop Holley, Julia Brown, Richard deStwolinski, Mary McGinnity, Msgr. Peter Vaghi, Susan Gibbs, and Father Mark Knestout. Papal honorees not pictured are: J. Michael Kelly, Father Carter Griffin, Deacon David Cahoon, Kathy McKinless and Jennifer Reed.
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Auxiliary Bishops Francisco Gonzalez and Martin Holley stand with members of the Archdiocese of Washington's Papal Visit Planning Committee who received papal honors at a Nov. 14 Mass at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Church, N.W. Standing from left to right are: Jane Belford, William Groman, Msgr. Barry Knestout, Thomas Burnford, Bishop Gonzalez, Archbishop Wuerl, Bishop Holley, Julia Brown, Richard deStwolinski, Mary McGinnity, Msgr. Peter Vaghi, Susan Gibbs, and Father Mark Knestout. Papal honorees not pictured are: J. Michael Kelly, Father Carter Griffin, Deacon David Cahoon, Kathy McKinless and Jennifer Reed.
Almost two weeks before Thanksgiving, expressions of gratitude following Pope Benedict XVI's mid-April visit to the nation's capital continued, as papal honors were conferred upon 15 members of the Archdiocese of Washington's Papal Visit Planning Committee during a Nov. 14 Mass celebrated by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Church, N.W. Archbishop Wuerl presented the honors, which were from Pope Benedict XVI.

"Tonight is part of a 'thank you' (that) this archdiocese has been saying since the Holy Father's plane took off (from Washington)," Archbishop Wuerl said in his homily, noting that, "We first thanked God for the visit."

Then in the days following the pope's departure, the archdiocese sent more than 2,300 letters to thank staff and volunteers who were involved with the historic visit, Pope Benedict's first visit as Holy Father to the United States. In December, a commemorative book and DVD will also be given to show further gratitude to those who helped with the papal visit.

The chairs of the Papal Visit Planning Committee - Msgr. Barry Knestout and J. Michael Kelly - received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross. Instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("for the Church and the Pope") is given for distinguished service to the Church and the Papacy. Msgr. Knestout serves as the moderator of the curia and vicar for administration for the archdiocese. Kelly formerly served as chief financial officer for the archdiocese.

Thirteen other members of the Papal Visit Planning Committee received the Benemerenti Medal. First bestowed by Pope Pius VI (1555-1565) as a military decoration signifying valor on the field of battle, the medal now awarded is that introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1972. It is conferred on members of the Roman curia, members of the administration of the Vatican City State, and those who have rendered outstanding and meritorious service to the Holy See.

Those receiving the Benemerenti Medal were:

- Msgr. Peter Vaghi, pastor of Church of the Little Flower, Bethesda, was the coordinator of a series of articles and lectures on the papacy, in preparation for the Holy Father's visit.

- Father Mark Knestout, director of the Office of Worship for the archdiocese, was the principal coordinator of the Papal Mass liturgy at Nationals Park.

- Father Carter Griffin, former priest secretary to the archbishop, now continuing his studies in Rome, worked closely with the archbishop in preparations for the Holy Father's visit.

- Deacon David Cahoon, serves at St. Mary's Parish, Barnesville, and was responsible for the construction of the sanctuary furnishings for the Mass at Nationals Park.

- Jane Belford, chancellor of the archdiocese, organized the four-hour audiovisual program that was presented at Nationals Park prior to Mass.

- Thomas Burnford, archdiocesan secretary for education, coordinated the catechetical efforts in the archdiocese in preparation for the papal visit and oversaw the production of a series of lesson plans on the papacy.

- William Gorman, archdiocesan secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns, was overall responsible for the thousands of volunteers who assisted throughout the Holy Father's visit in Washington, including the Hunger to Hope food drive.

- Kathy McKinless, financial consultant for the archdiocese, was the coordinator for the distribution of 50,000 tickets to the Holy Father's Mass.

- Susan Gibbs, communications director for the archdiocese, coordinated the hundreds of media personnel who covered the Holy Father's Mass.

- Mary McGinnity, executive director of social concerns for the archdiocese, was responsible to manage the hundreds of volunteers who assisted in the Papal Mass at Nationals Park.

- Richard deStwolinski, archdiocesan director of facilities, directed the logistical details involved in the Holy Father's visit.

- Jennifer Reed, archbishop's staff, assisted the archbishop in many responsibilities related to the Holy Father's visit, particularly in communicating with offices inside and outside the archdiocese.

- Julia Brown, archbishop's staff, compiled and managed the vast database of persons invited to the Mass at Nationals Park, as well as coordinating the attendance of public and diplomatic figures.

The Archdiocese of Washington planned the April 17 Papal Mass at Nationals Park, Pope Benedict's first public Mass in the United States. The Mass at the new park drew about 50,000 people from across the archdiocese and throughout the United States.

Pope Benedict's visit was announced one year ago, and the theme "Christ Our Hope" was adopted to reflect his new encyclical. In the five months before the visit, archdiocesan staff and volunteers engaged in a myriad of activities, including preparing and distributing related educational materials for all ages, planning all the details for the Papal Mass, coordinating four choirs and nearly 600 singers to perform at the Mass, organizing a food drive at local Catholic schools and parishes to honor the pope, planning the construction of the papal altar and other furnishings, transforming the ballpark into a cathedral for one day, planning the distribution of tickets to the Mass, organizing an army of volunteers, and working with media covering the Papal Mass from around the world.

During his visit to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by President Bush upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base and later welcomed during a special White House ceremony. The Holy Father prayed with the nation's Catholic bishops at an evening vespers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, addressed Catholic educational leaders from across the country in a gathering at The Catholic University of America, and met with interfaith representatives at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

Children from nearby Annunciation School gathered outside the Apostolic Nunciature and sang "Happy Birthday" to the pontiff on his 81st birthday, and large, enthusiastic crowds greeted the Holy Father on his popemobile routes along Pennsylvania Avenue and near the National Shrine and Catholic University.

Also during his Washington visit, Pope Benedict met privately and prayed with a small group of sexual abuse survivors.

After leaving Washington, the Holy Father flew to New York, where he addressed the United Nations, prayed at Ground Zero, celebrated Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral and Yankee Stadium, and met with Jewish leaders at a synagogue. In New York, the pope also had special meetings with youth, seminarians and people with disabilities.