Nothing left to chance for pope Detailed preparations for visit under way in churches, stadium

September 26, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

An article in Tuesday's Sun incorrectly reported that renovations costing $165,000 to the Basilica of the Assumption were made in preparation for Pope John Paul II's visit Oct. 8. According to the Rev. Michael White, program director for the papal visit, the maintenance and renewal projects had been long planned and were not related to the visit.

The Sun regrets the error.

From the 80,000 wafers needed for the Holy Communion to the two tons of steel for the altar crucifix, the planning for the pope's visit to Baltimore is a task of nearly biblical proportions.

It took six nuns of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd two full weeks to make the communion wafers from flour and water. Three hundred priests will distribute 50,000 of them, grandstand by grandstand, during Pope John Paul II's Oct. 8 Mass at Camden Yards.


"This is the biggest single order we've ever filled," said Sister Louise Cecelia Greenfield, a superior in the order of nuns based in Baltimore and Washington. "The sisters said special prayers for the pope while they were making them, as well as for all the people coming that day."

Beginning the moment the pontiff's plane stops on a specially marked red "X" at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the pope will be the center of an ecclesiastical extravaganza that will be exhaustive in detail, involving everyone from schoolchildren to Secret Service counter-snipers.

The papal visit is the first ever to Baltimore and will follow Pope John Paul's four-day trip to the New York area. Organizers expect 50,000 people for the stadium Mass and at least a quarter-million for the downtown parade after the service.

Plans have been worked out in painstaking detail for months. That's a lot of work, considering that the pope will be in town

only for 12 hours.

"We've been preparing for this for a year. If you think about it, that's a month of planning for every hour he's here," said Baltimore archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is being transformed from a baseball jewel to a Roman Catholic cathedral, with a 5,000-pound, 34-foot steel crucifix standing as a backdrop to the giant papal altar in center field.

"The cross is very big," said its designer, Demir Hamami -- so big that it must be assembled at the ballpark with a crane and hydraulic lift.

At the Basilica of the Assumption, the nation's first Catholic cathedral, workers have given the building a $165,000 face lift in preparation for the pope's 30-minute tour.

Experts have been hired to provide soft lighting for television cameras during the pope's prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where 700 Catholic school children will be waiting to greet the Holy Father's motorcade.

About a thousand journalists are expected in town, ranging from Polish television crew members to in-house writers from the Vatican.

And the archdiocese has estimated that 700 buses packed with Catholics will arrive shortly after dawn at Camden Yards, coming from parishes all over the state.

St. Margaret's in Bel Air, the largest parish in the Baltimore archdiocese, has rented 18 school buses and has borrowed parking space near the church to accommodate them.

"I've been using a computer to keep track of all the arrangements for the trip. We have 764 tickets, and I still have about 400 people on a waiting list," said parish administrator Karen Saccenti.

Thorough preparations

Nearly everything imaginable has been researched and reviewed, from the hymns to be sung to the hide-outs where criminals could take cover.

"The counter-sniper teams have surveyed all the areas along the parade route. They visited virtually every building site," said Steve Mason, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the federal Secret Service.

Federal officials said security for the pope, who was shot at St. Peter's Square in 1981 by a Turkish assailant, is a logistical challenge rivaling presidential protection.

"It's no easy job. We've got to be 360 degrees around him at all times," Agent Mason said.

In their preparatory sweeps, counter-snipers identified the places where assassins could hide and wait. Police plan to fly PTC overhead in helicopters and prowl the streets with bomb-sniffing dogs. About 1,000 state and federal law enforcement officers will be involved in providing security for the pope, a source said.

More than a dozen portable metal detectors are being brought in from Washington for the sites the pope will visit. BWI will have four extra portable metal detectors and a radar screen. Vice President Al Gore and his wife are expected for the pope's departure from the airport.

Before the parade begins, federal agents plan to remove mail and newspaper boxes as well as trash cans -- all receptacles that could be used to hide a bomb -- Agent Mason said. Sewer manhole covers will be sealed, and the Federal Aviation Administration has forbidden private flights over the downtown area during the papal visit.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.