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Dozens from Milwaukee Area Travel to See Pope Francis

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Pope Francis in Cuba

A  number of Milwaukeeans are heading to the cities where Pope Francis will spend the next week: Washington, DC; New York and Philadelphia. They have different reasons for making the trip.

One of the local people heading to see Pope Francis is not a Catholic. It's Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

"I'm just excited for what I'm sure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Abele says.

Abele will see the pope at the White House. He says it extended an invitation to him because Milwaukee County and the Obama administration have collaborated on issues, including the Affordable Care Act.

Abele says he admires the pope who has sometimes surprised his flock.

"The notion of having a pope who has such warmth, humility, openness and tolerance, and openly accepts climate science, it's a new tone for the church," Abele says.

Abele's White House invitation said he could bring a guest. So he invited Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University. Lovell says he expects students and staff to pay attention to the pope's message in the U.S. and apply it to their lives.

"He's very approachable and he's very humble, but he also is convicted, and so those are all traits that I look for as I try to lead this institution myself, that I can learn from him," Lovell says.

Grace MazzaUrbanski is overjoyed at the chance to see Pope Francis. Urbanski says she admired him from the start.

"I knew that he is a very special person that I wanted to keep close tabs on," Urbanski says.

Urbanski heads the national organization Apostleship of Prayer, based in Milwaukee. It's Jesuit-run, and Pope Francis is a Jesuit, so she says she feels especially connected to the pope.

"The moment when he bowed his head when he was elected and asked everyone to pray for him that moved me deeply," Urbanski says.

Urbanski will attend the papal mass in Philadelphia Sunday. She believes people in the Milwaukee area will be paying just as much attention to the visit, including by using apps that keep up with his trip.

"People love to hear what he says -- sometimes just because they love him, and they love everything that comes out of his mouth, but also because some people never know exactly what that will be, and so they watch him for the excitement of it all," Urbanski says.

Peter Isely admits many people find Pope Francis to be engaging, but Isely says, "what's important is changing the system," so the church does more to protect children from sexually-abusive clergy. Isely is with the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and he has already traveled out east. He says the group will hold events throughout the pope's high-profile visit.

"We have groups, of course, in all of those cities he's going to be at, so we'll be trying to get our message out in all those cities," Isely says.

One of the pope's stops will be at the United Nations. Isely's group held a news conference there Monday. The group announced demands, including global zero tolerance for sexual abuse in the priesthood, and the creation of a global registry of sex offenders.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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