'Such charisma, so much emotion' Smiles, tears, awe greet appearance by pope in the downtown THE POPE IN BALTIMORE

October 09, 1995|By Michael Ollove and David Simon | Michael Ollove and David Simon,SUN STAFF

At times, the only sound to be heard in the heart of downtown Baltimore was the flutter of gold-and-white papal flags in the autumnal breeze.

It was a rare quietude, an air of gentle contemplation that settled over the tens of thousands who gathered around the Inner Harbor yesterday, lining the streets to mark the presence nearby of Pope John Paul II. The city has seen such crowds before, but no other moment -- not a World Series victory or a Preakness festivity or a New Year's party -- has produced such a contented silence.

Beneath the flags in McKeldin Square -- renamed Celebration Square for this one day -- the crowd sat or stood, encircled by three huge screens televising the Sunday Mass being celebrated four blocks away at Camden Yards. Some held hands, others closed their eyes in prayer; a few murmured familiar portions of the liturgy.

Baltimore's harbor has had many incarnations -- bustling waterfront, rotting skid row, glittering showpiece -- but this transformation was perhaps the most unlikely. This was an open-air cathedral.

"Never in our wildest dream did we picture ourselves sitting in the middle of Light Street watching a Mass on a big screen, waiting for the popemobile," said Ida Sarsitis.

Ms. Sarsitis, who grew up in nearby Little Italy, was among scores who sat in the crosswalk at Pratt and Light streets, watching the stadium ceremony and waiting for their chance to glimpse the pontiff. Others sat in the center lanes of Pratt, or rested themselves in the ivy-covered berms that border the square.

The Catholic devout turned out in large numbers, but the spirit of the papal visit resonated with others as well. Theo Schamerhorn, a blond, 50-year-old woman wearing a University of Nebraska sweat shirt, was raised in the faith but had not been inside a Catholic church in 15 years. Yet she left her Washington home in the pre-dawn blackness to stake out a coveted spot along the parade route at Light and Pratt.

"I can't explain it," she said. "He generates such charisma, so much emotion."

Non-Catholics drawn

Non-Catholics, too, found their attraction to the pope inexplicable. "I'm a former DJ, and I'm speechless," said Duke Wilson, a part-time drummer who got on a 3 a.m. train yesterday after finishing a gig in New York. Though an Episcopalian, he said he wanted to see the pope for what may be the pontiff's last trip to this country.

Even some of those unwilling to embrace the pope's particular faith or message found themselves drawn downtown. "I don't agree with all his positions, but I think he says what he believes and stays true to that," said Jane Thompson, a Lutheran from East Baltimore.

Ms. Thompson said she was lured downtown by curiosity and the parade after the stadium Mass. Many came to witness an event never before seen in this city. "I can get a front row seat for history," said Janae Wingfield, a 34-year old crime lab technician with the Maryland State Police, as she sat waiting with her two young sons and her mother, Gloria Gilchrist.

Mrs. Gilchrist had other reasons for being on Pratt Street at sunrise with a video camera at the ready. A nurse, she was there as the eyes and ears of a patient with multiple sclerosis. "I'm specifically here on a mission for one of my patients who couldn't be here," she said. "If this will give him a lift, I am willing to do it."

Mass for the faithful

If the later parade swelled the crowd with the casual and curious, then the papal Mass belonged largely to the Catholic faithful -- those who had the chance for Holy Communion with the pope at Oriole Park, or those others who contented themselves with the televised broadcast.

"This has been such a spiritual year for us," said Gino DeSimone, a Richmond parishioner who won his church's lottery of stadium tickets. "To come here and be at this Mass -- it just has so much significance for us."

In his arms, Mr. DeSimone held 10-week-old Alex, only recently baptized. His wife, Robin DeSimone, converted from Judaism earlier this year. "For me, this is a very, very big thing," she said. "I'm in awe."

Bid for tickets

Just outside the stadium, Michelle McAndrews, 20, of Springfield, Va., held aloft a hand-lettered sign that declared: "Need 1 ticket so badly. Please." The sign was given to her by another desperate soul who earlier used it to glean a precious ticket.

"So she gave me her sign," said Ms. McAndrews, with a laugh. "She said it was lucky."

Moments later, Jo Kolakowski of Kingsville walked wordlessly to Ms. McAndrews and presented her with an extra ticket. "It felt good to do that," Ms. Kolakowski said later.

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