IN DOLLAR terms, tourism officials are expecting a statewide economic impact of some $19.1 million in hotel, restaurant and other revenues connected to the one-day visit of Pope John Paul II to Baltimore next Sunday. There are, of course, no tangible numbers to place on the spiritual benefits, but they will be substantial. A papal visit -- particularly one to a city as important to American Catholicism as Baltimore has been -- cannot help but uplift the entire community.
Cardinal William H. Keeler has suggested that Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays as part of their spiritual preparation for the visit. That small discipline is meant as a symbol of larger things -- a stronger commitment to the poor, to the church or to faith itself.
The "faith-filled celebration" being prepared by the archdiocese goes beyond Roman Catholics to include people of all faiths by underlining what religious communities share in common. Faith, family, a spiritual view of life that leavens the pervasive materialism of Western culture -- these are values which all religious people can join in celebrating.
This week the attention is on the sheer size of the task of planning a papal visit. From security arrangements to orderly crowd management to orchestrating as much public exposure for the pope as possible, the planning for the 10-hour visit is a mammoth operation.
The day itself will produce all the familiar trappings of civic extravaganzas: the T-shirts, the mementos, memorabilia and all the rest of it. But this occasion also carries a spiritual dimension that should ripple throughout the community as surely as the dollars and cents that will funnel through hotels and restaurants, cab drivers and souvenir hawkers.
It is Baltimore's good fortune, at last, to play host to Pope John Paul II. Indeed, as spiritual leaders remind us, it is also a blessing.