Excitement about Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Washington was almost tangible last Tuesday night among a crowd of more than 350 young adults gathered together at Ireland's Four Fields pub in Washington. Archbishop Wuerl spoke to the large group of young Catholics in a talk titled "Who is Peter?" about the first pope, Peter, and how his message connects to the current pope.

The talk was part of the Theology on Tap program held on Tuesday nights at Ireland's Four Fields for young adults who are 21 years old or older.

The program is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington's Young Adult Ministry.

But Theology on Tap does not usually draw the kind of crowd that came out on Feb. 19 to hear Archbishop Wuerl talk about Pope Benedict's April visit to Washington. All of the seats in the Northwest Washington pub were taken, and young adult Catholics stood near the walls and door. Six tickets to the April 17 papal Mass at Nationals Park were also raffled away.

In an interview prior to the archbishop's talk, Catherine Portmer, a 25-year-old parishioner at St. Thomas Apostle in Washington, seemed to express the sentiment of many of the young adults gathered there when she said the Holy Father's visit to Washington may be the only time in her lifetime to see the pope, and she wanted to "take advantage of that moment."

Portmer also said, "I think it's a great opportunity to see a religious leader in our country."

During his talk, Archbishop Wuerl said, "He is Peter. Benedict XVI is Peter today," adding that he continues the work that Peter did in the early beginnings of the Church.

Recounting the story of Jesus and Peter, Archbishop Wuerl said Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?" and Peter responded, "You are the Christ."

Jesus' words, "Feed my sheep," reveal God's love and also the role of Peter, the archbishop said.

Then the archbishop posed the question, "How do we get from Peter to us," to 2008 and this pub?

Archbishop Wuerl said the answer to the question of how people can know Jesus' words is because "little by little ...the story of Jesus...has been passed on."

Referring to the 264 successors to Peter, Washing-ton's archbishop said, "There is this unbroken line."

He said Peter is the "living apostolic voice in the Church" and, without him, we'd have no access to Jesus' words.

The archbishop said, "Benedict is Peter, and he's come among us."

The pope's message, he said, is the message of Jesus that people have heard since they were children Ð "Jesus died for us, God loves us" and people should love one another.

Archbishop Wuerl said this is the message the faithful hear at church, and it's what he thinks Pope Benedict will say when he comes to Washington.

It's what "[has been] said for 2,000 years Ð the message of God's love," he said.

Archbishop Wuerl also noted Pope Benedict "connects us directly with the Apostles and therefore with Jesus."

However, he also noted Christians don't always get it right when they try to follow the Gospel. But they know what they are called to do, because Peter continues to be with us today.

When Pope Benedict comes to Washington, the archbishop said, "[We will be] cheering with our voices, but [also] cheering in our hearts."

The young adults then asked the archbishop questions about the pope.

Archbishop Wuerl called Pope Benedict's writings "extraordinary."

The essence of the encyclical "God is Love" is people's obligation to live in that love, he said.

Describing Pope Benedict's writing on hope, Archbishop Wuerl said, "The person who hopes lives differently. Because the person who hopes has received the gift of new life."

While only six tickets to the papal Mass were raffled off at the Feb. 19 event, Archbishop Wuerl noted other opportunities to see the pope will be available, including when the pope rides in his popemobile through Washington.

With regard to a question about Pope Benedict's "tough guy" persona, Archbishop Wuerl compared him to a football referee who says, "We play inside these lines," even if people dislike him for doing his job.

From his own contact with Pope Benedict, the archbishop said, "I always found him to be...just a very gentle and kind person," who would greet people at the door as they left.

The archbishop also said, "I found him to listen."

In an interview prior to the archbishop's talk, Martha Paluch, 21, a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, said she'd begun to read George Weigel's book God's Choice about Pope Benedict, and she sees that the pope is an intellectual.

Paluch said Pope Benedict has been given a bad reputation, and that's "unfair."

Paluch also said her parents are Polish and a visit to Poland in 2005 sparked her interest in the papacy.

"I'm very excited that he's coming," she said, adding that she applied for the raffle for a ticket to the papal Mass, but didn't think she would win.

In another question after his talk, someone asked the archbishop how to respond to someone who wonders how people can have faith in the papacy when the church has had imperfect popes in the past.

Archbishop Wuerl said the spirit and grace of the Church is carried in human beings who don't always live up to the potential of grace they have.

But, like Peter, people want to be with Christ in their hearts, he said.

The young adults applauded when Archbishop Wuerl said the proof of the divine is the Church still thriving today, in spite of human failings.

Some of the young adults interviewed after the talk showed their enthusiasm for the pope's visit.

Brigid Phelan, a fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Victory School in Washington, said, "I'm absolutely, totally excited," adding that she has never had a chance to see the pope. Phelan said she attended Catholic schools and has taught in them for the past seven years.

Anna Shopen, a 28-year-old parishioner at St. Matthew's, said, "I feel like we're at a critical time, and his coming here will be a message of hope." The pope, she said, offers a "voice of unity." When asked what she meant by it being a critical time, Shopen said one key moral issue being confronted today is embryonic stem cell research, which the Church opposes because it involves the destruction of human life.

A graduate student and consultant with an agency on Capitol Hill, Maria Valencia, 28, said, "It's exciting to have his [the pope's] presence as an affirmation of the growing Catholic faith and community in the United States."

Julia Richardson, 29, said she's "excited that he's making a trip to the United States in his second year as pope, and I hope that I win a ticket." Richardson is a parishioner at Holy Trinity in Washington.

Joey Riedel, 28, a student at American University, said, "I'm excited. I'm a convert," adding that he is hoping to see the pope through the Knights of Columbus.

Riedel, who will be confirmed at Easter, said that as an Evangelical, he saw Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.