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From close and afar, locals hope to connect in first U.S. visit by Pope Francis

St. Joseph’s 6th-grader Megan Wilke stands at the beginning of the interactive, living Rosary during practice on Monday, September 21, 2015 in Moorhead, Minn. The school will record the prayer this Wednesday and send the video via Twitter to Pope Francis. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 2 / 4
From left, Bennett Burd, Jayden Stillday and Shelby Tooz pick up different colored placemats that represent the decade and mystery spots for the interactive, living Rosary at St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead, Minn. on Monday, September 21, 2015. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 3 / 4
Andrew Hilliker, principal at St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead, Minn., explains to the students how their interactive, living Rosary Prayer will play out on Wednesday, when they will send a video via Twitter to Pope Francis. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 4 / 4

FARGO — Students at a local Catholic school know it's a longshot that Pope Francis will see video of the interactive rosary prayer they'll recite in his honor Wednesday, but it will be tweeted out to the social media-savvy pontiff nonetheless.

"You kind of feel like it's a lottery you're playing," said Andrew Hilliker, principal at St. Joseph's School in Moorhead. "It's unlikely, but still the excitement and the slim possibility of it is pretty neat."

Every one of the 235 preschool through eighth-grade students at St. Joseph's will have some role in the event to celebrate the first visit of Pope Francis to the U.S.

The pope arrives in Washington, D.C., from Cuba about 3 p.m. today for a six-day U.S. visit. Less than 24 hours later, students from St. Joseph's will line up in a formation of rosary beads, with the youngest singing songs and the older students reciting the rosary.

"It's a very neat recited prayer that has meaning to it beyond just the words," Hilliker said. "It's part of who we are as a school."

The school will post a condensed video of the event on Twitter and tag Pope Francis, who has well over 7 million followers under the handle @Pontifex.

"Hopefully, he can see it," Hilliker said.

More than a dozen people from the Catholic Diocese of Fargo are also filled with hope, awaiting a chance to see the pope.

The group of diocese employees, lay people and families leaves today for Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families conference being held in conjunction with the pope's visit, said the Rev. Andrew Jasinski of the Fargo Diocese.

The conference includes adult and youth sessions, five keynote addresses and 65 breakout sessions dedicated to marriage and family subjects. While it runs all week, Pope Francis doesn't arrive in Philadelphia until the weekend.

The pope's plans include a Mass of Canonization in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, and speaking to the U.N. General Assembly and attending a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City on Friday.

Bishop John Folda of the Fargo Diocese will attend the Mass of Canonization and a meeting of bishops. There will be little to no public access to those or any other papal events.

The tenor will change when the pope arrives in Philadelphia. The public will catch glimpses of Pope Francis when he visits the Festival of Families celebration on Saturday and conducts Mass to wrap up the World Meeting of Families on Sunday.

"We as a pilgrimage group have tickets to that," Jasinski said.

One Fargo Diocese employee said he's looking forward to the experience. Brad Gray, father to six children ages 2 to 18, is anxious to soak up information on professional and personal levels.

"As a married man, you're routinely realizing how far you are from what you wish you would be as a husband and father," said Gray, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

Gray said gathering with families from across the world, along with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, will be a blessing.

"I'm coming in starry-eyed," he said.

Visit from Pope Francis brings firsts

• First visit by Pope Francis to U.S.

• First Canonization to take place on U.S. soil.

• Canonization is of America's first Hispanic saint, Junipero Serra.

• First time World Meeting of Families being held in U.S.

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