Friday August 13, 1993

Thrill Of A Lifetime: Shaking Hands With The Pope, Clinton

*James Durette of Somerset and Greg Vallee of North Providence were among those chosen to greet the Pope.

By RICHARD C. DUJARDIN Journal-Bulletin Religion Writer DENVER

Yesterday under a heavy rain and gray Denver sky, 17-year-old James Durette of Somerset, Mass., looked as though he'd died and gone to heaven.
He had just shaken hands with the Pope, and had touched his arm. And he shook President Clinton's hand as well.
"I don't believe this. It's so overwhelming," Durette said, a grin extending from ear to ear. "This is the biggest thing ever to happen to me in my whole life. He was right there. Right there in my face."

Durette, along with Rhode Islander Greg Vallee, 17, of Presentation of Mary parish in North Providence, were among the 150 young American Catholics chosen to represent their dioceses at John Paul II's arrival yesterday at Stapleton airport. Durette was picked by the Fall River Diocese, Vallee by Providence.

Neither the young men, who were lucky enough to sit in the front row of World Youth Day delegates, nor the 400 or so other invited guests had expected the steady, heavy rain that began only a few minutes after the Pope walked down the steps of his green and white Alitalia jet, with the stars and stripes and yellow papal flag fluttering at the top of the cockpit.

But no one seemed to care at such a historic moment, the first encounter between Mr. Clinton and the man regarded by more than a billion Catholics as the vicar of Christ.

Vallee didn't think about trying to get out of the rain.
Being on hand to greet the Pope could well change his life "a lot," he said. "It's so much of an honor just being here."

For Durette, the Pope's remarks, delivered under an umbrella to the President and the "dear people of America," were on target.

With Mr. Clinton, who supports abortion rights, standing only a couple of feet away, the Pope delivered an impassioned appeal for the United States to live up to its values, and he repeated words he voiced when he last was in the country, in 1987: "America . . . The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones. . . . All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person."

James Durette was moved.
"I liked what he said about life," the young man said. "And especially having him say it so President Clinton could hear."

Durette of St. Patrick's parish in Somerset goes each week with his father to the Rose Hawthorne Home in Fall River as a volunteer to comfort patients dying from cancer.

Besides being a drum major in the Somerset High School Marching Band, he is also an organizer and co-director of STAND, Somerset Teens Against Needless Death, a town-wide anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia group.

Vallee is a 1993 graduate of North Providence High School and an incoming freshman at Community College of Rhode Island.

He said he agrees with the Pope on every issue, though he noted that the Pope's views are not always popular with people his age. While he does not consider himself "overly religious," he goes to Mass every week and is increasingly involved with church and the CYO at St. Anthony parish in North Providence.

Another Rhode Islander in the crowd yesterday was Arthur A. Coia, the recently elected president of the Laborers International Union of North America and a member of St. Luke's parish in Barrington. Coia, who was invited by the White House to attend the ceremonies, said he jumped at the chance to be on hand because, "I see a correlation between unionism and what this Pope stands for, the dignity of the human person and human work.".

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