Though they can't see Pope Benedict XVI in person this week, students at Juan Diego Catholic High School are working hard on a birthday gift for the pontiff, whose 81st birthday was celebrated by Washington elite during his visit to the White House on Wednesday.

Brian Manternach, of the office of campus life at Juan Diego, said students are responding to a request by the National Catholic Education Association to pledge service hours in honor of the pope. "What do you give the man who has everything? What would he want for his birthday? I think he'd want to know that Catholic youths are in service to others."

He said the decision to participate is left to each school, and Juan Diego decided to participate, pledging 5,000 hours of service from students by May 1. "We're counting the service performed so far this school year and through May as well. So far we have about 2,300 hours completed. We're hoping to get there by May."

Service can be as informal as helping a neighbor rake leaves, carrying groceries, cleaning house. More formal, organized events include volunteer hours on the upcoming Salt Lake City Marathon, in which several students will be involved. Blood drives on campus, fundraisers, activities associated with a school club called Human Rights International, and concession and ticket sales at school sporting events are all opportunities for student service.

"We give them the ideas and present the opportunities, then ask for the volunteers. Then it's on them to pursue and follow through," Manternach said. Students take a service form to the events they volunteer for, and it must be signed off by a supervisor tallying how many hours they worked and the kinds of tasks they completed.

The school only became aware of the pledge a couple of months ago, but word spread quickly within the administration and they decided to participate. "We're encouraging (students) not only to complete the hours for the good of doing service, but to honor the pope for his leadership and visit to America."

During the pope's visit this week, Manternach is also reporting on details of his activities and speeches during the school's morning announcements over the intercom.

"I'm really excited for his visit," Manternach said. "I think its great he is in America. It says a lot about how he's invested in our community, and specifically his interest in our youth. I hope they pick that up and we can build on that excitement."

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