FORT WORTH -- Dressed in a white gown, Sara Steves, an eighth-grader at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine, was the only girl in a group of altar servers preparing to lead a procession of clergy and the region's top Catholic bishop.
"I'm kind of nervous and excited," the 13-year-old said Wednesday as she stood in the foyer of the Fort Worth Convention Center. "It's going to be fun."
Within minutes, she was in the arena surrounded by 6,000 other Catholic schoolchildren who stood ready to worship with Bishop Kevin Vann.
Vann, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, led the "All Schools Liturgy" attended by children in grades one to 12 from 19 diocese schools. Students, faculty and parents came from schools as far away as Wichita Falls and Muenster.
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"We never do anything as a community, but this is the day when we can be a community," said Angelica Sison, 17, a senior at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth.
The liturgy, whose theme was "One in the Spirit," marked only the second time the leader of the Roman Catholic diocese celebrated a convocation Mass with schoolchildren. The last was four years ago. Wednesday's event also commemorated the 40-year anniversary of the diocese, officials said.
"For a lot of kids, this is a one-time event," said Joan Gillen, a correspondent with the North Texas Catholic newspaper, a publication of the diocese. "It's quite a feat to get all these kids here."
Carmen Mendez drove from her home in Providence Village, east of Denton, to Dallas to pick up her mother before the family headed to Fort Worth to attend the liturgy. It was worth it, she said, with her boys, Alex, 7, and Eric, 9, in tow. The boys wore navy ties that represent the uniform of their school, Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Denton.
"We want to be here to celebrate our Catholic faith and our schools," Mendez said.
Moments before the liturgy began, Bishop Vann greeted fellow priests from area churches and schools. On hand were local heads of churches, including the Rev. Phil Johnson of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Bedford.
The bishop encouraged students to seek "refuge, security and peace" in their faith as they embarked on their studies and extracurricular activities during the 2010-11 school year.
Students from Fort Worth schools held up colorful flags representing their campuses.
Juan Robles, 13, an eighth-grader at All Saints Catholic School on the north side, was chosen by his teachers to carry the school's flag. "It's an honor to represent my school," he said. "I woke up excited to see other schools and see how big our community is."
Anna Cook, 13, an eighth-grader at St. Rita's, on the east side, said she got up early to make sure she looked sharp. "I got up early just to straighten my hair," she said.
The liturgy featured music from the Nolan Catholic band; a pre-liturgy performance was given by guitarist and singer Jesse Manibusan. Students wore ties, vests and plaid school uniforms in the tradition of Catholic parochial education. The Knights of Columbus were on hand with their colorful capes and plumed chapeaux.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705