A whole weekend of events celebrating Maryland's varied religious heritage is being constructed around Pope John Paul II's 10-hour visit to Baltimore this fall.
Among several ecumenical projects that have drawn enthusiasm the early stages of planning are ambitious tours of Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and Roman Catholic landmarks in the city and Baltimore County.
"It's one of the best aspects of this whole thing," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, who is on a four-person committee compiling a "wish list" of churches and synagogues that would be opened in connection with the Oct. 23 papal visit.
Discussing the historic or architecturally significant houses of worship expected to be featured, he said, "We believe it's a celebration of the whole faith community of Baltimore, not just Catholics."
A three-hour papal Mass in Oriole Park at Camden Yards is intended mainly for Roman Catholics. But Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler hopes the pope's visit will help to unify other faiths here -- Jewish and Muslim as well as Christian -- in a shared rededication to basic religious values.
To bolster that idea, a "Family Vigil," a service of prayers and music representing a cross section of religious traditions, will be conducted from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field the evening before the pope's Sunday visit.
The parade he will lead in his customized bullet-proof vehicle through downtown streets after the Sunday Mass is also being described as a "coming together of many faiths" by archdiocesan planners.
"I have said previously that the Holy Father's presence in a community often brings people together," recalled Archbishop Keeler, adding, "That has already proven true for the people leading our governments, churches, synagogues and temples in the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore."
Non-Catholic clergy and elected officials who concur with the archbishop's theme include Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Greek Orthodox and Episcopal priests, evangelical Protestant ministers and a Muslim imam.
Describing Pope John Paul's decision to come to Baltimore as "a blessing," the Very Rev. Constantine M. Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, said, "We need blessings."
Imam M. Bashar Arafat, spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, agreed that interfaith participation could occasion blessings for Muslims. "It will be helpful to show that Islam is not against Christianity," he said.
And the Rev. William N. McKeachie, rector of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Parish, noted that his landmark church at Charles and Saratoga streets is on John Paul's parade route. Referring to the 23-bell carillon installed two years ago to mark St. Paul's 300th anniversary, he said, "In whatever way we can, we will throw the doors open and ring the bells. We'll ring them like never before."
With the possible exception of an ecumenical prayer service in in Columbia, S.C., in 1987, no other appearance by Pope John Paul in an American city has had quite the interfaith focus that Catholic Church officials and their supporters anticipate in the // oldest U.S. archdiocese.
Archbishop Keeler said the interfaith parade, which begins at Pratt and Russell streets and ends at Charles and Saratoga streets, will probably be unlike anything John Paul has experienced during his travels throughout the world.
"Colorfully costumed families representing many faiths will walk the parade route behind the pope," the archbishop said. "There will be music, banners, flags and balloons, making this an event unique and distinct from all previous papal visits in the United States."
Father Roach, who is pastor of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore, said the committee organizing the tours of religious landmarks expects many to "showcase their choirs or organs, their art, the work of their youth groups, even the florists who arrange their flowers."
The other committee members are Billie Conkling, an Episcopalian who is senior warden of Old St. Paul's Parish; Doris A. Trainor, of the Bolton Street Synagogue in Bolton Hill, and Fran Johanson, a Roman Catholic lay leader.
The "wish list" for the tours includes three of the 16 churches that Catholic archdiocese officials say are threatened with being closed because of a shortage of money and priests. They are Father Roach's own St. Peter's, St. Alphonsus on Saratoga Street and St. Michael the Archangel on Wolfe Street.
Other Catholic landmarks expected to be part of the tours are St. Vincent de Paul on Front Street, Corpus Christi in Bolton Hill, St. Francis Xavier in East Baltimore, the new many-domed Ukrainian church on Eastern Avenue near Patterson Park and St. Frances Academy on East Chase Street.