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Papal Celebrities

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Papal Celebrities,600 ^Rupert Murdoch, Ricardo Montalban among locals awarded papal knighthood. One presides over a multibillion-dollar media empire. Another is an actor best known for as the suave Mr. Rourke on the TV series ``Fantasy Island.'' And there was also a longtime volunteer. About 60 people awarded with papal knighthood Sunday came from a myriad of professions and backgrounds. Though News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and Ricardo Montalban were among those inducted into the Order of St. Gregory the Great, most were not wealthy or celebrities.

Joseph Kennerson, a 63-year-old lifelong Catholic, was nominated by his local bishop for being a devoted volunteer in his Long Beach community. ``I've been doing this ever since I was a kid,'' Kennerson said while holding his 2-year-old granddaughter Abby. ``When the bishop notices you working hard ... it's nice.'' About 500 people dressed in their Sunday best packed St. Francis de Sales Church in Sherman Oaks to witness the solemn, 90-minute ceremony. They craned their necks to catch a glimpse as honorees approached the altar when their names were called. Men were installed as Knights of St. Gregory while women were named Dames of St. Gregory, the female equivalent of knighthood. ``I look to each one of you as you go back into the world where you have so much influence to be models of the life of Christ,'' Mahony told the newly inducted knights and dames. Murdoch and his wife, Anna, both smiled as Mahony presented them a cross medallion, the emblem of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. Montalban leaned on a metal walker with wheels as he walked to the altar. He has been using one since undergoing spinal surgery several years ago. ``I thought it was very moving,'' Murdoch said after the ceremony. ``I thought it was very spiritual and I was very impressed by what the cardinal said.'' ``It was very humbling,'' Mrs. Murdoch added. ``We're both trying very hard to get through the eye of the needle. Perhaps this is the beginning.'' Bob and Delores Hope and entertainment executive Roy Disney were also scheduled to be knighted Sunday but were unable to attend. The Hopes were in Palm Springs and Disney was in Ireland, said Sister Mary Jean Meier, who directs special services for the Los Angeles archdiocese. Sixty-seven people were inducted into the Order of St. Gregory the Great the largest group ever inducted in a single year from Los Angeles, which has the largest population in the United States. Since 1921, only 142 knighthoods have been granted locally an average of less than two a year. The pope bestows the honor on those with ``unblemished character'' who have promoted the interest of society, the Catholic Church and the Vatican, said Father Gregory Coiro, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Murdoch, Hope and Disney are not Catholibut have contributed heavily to churches, Coiro said. Their wives, however, are Catholic and were named Dames of St. Gregory. Montalban, who is Catholic, flashed a wide smile at photographers and televisions cameras that packed the side aisles of the cavernous church. ``At first it was a total surprise when they told me I was going to receive this incredible honor,'' Montalban said. ``(I feel) joy, gratitude for this enormous spiritual gift that His Holiness has given me. And then a sense of humility because, truthfully, there are so many people more deserving than I.'' Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro, another prominent local Catholic, was also knighted. ``It's overwhelming. I'm very honored,'' he said. ``I'm just thrilled to be here. It's quite impressive.'' (Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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