THE ticket for Catholics

Many seek, few get admission to Mass in Nationals Park

April 13, 2008|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

Ginny Dauses considers herself blessed.

The campus minister at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis has collected some of the toughest tickets in town: admission to at least two major events during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington this week. She will also chaperone a group attending the pope's rally with young people in Yonkers, N.Y.

Along with current and former students, Dauses even plans to stake out the pontiff's public routes in an effort to catch a glimpse of their spiritual leader.

"To be there among the people and just see it firsthand is going to be so different than to see it on the news or read about it in the paper," the 30-year-old Annapolis resident said.

She is one of a fortunate few from the Archdiocese of Baltimore who will witness Pope Benedict's visit in person. The archdiocese received 2,500 tickets for the Washington Mass and 1,000 tickets for the New York Mass at Yankee Stadium - to distribute among its half-million registered Catholics.

Forty-five young people will attend a youth rally with Pope Benedict on Saturday at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.

Like many of the Roman Catholic faithful, Dauses has high emotional expectations for the papal trip - Pope Benedict's first excursion to the United States since his election in 2005 and only his second visit to the Western Hemisphere.

His itinerary balances politics - historic encounters at the White House, Ground Zero and the United Nations - with direct ministry in Masses at Nationals Park in Washington and Yankee Stadium in New York. Pope Benedict will also meet with Catholic educators and clergy. For believers, it's an experience to be savored.

"For him to come here, I have to come out and say, `Welcome, Holy Father, and thank you and pray for us,'" Dauses said. "You might not see this happen again for another 15 or 20 years."

On Feb. 6 - before anyone knew how many tickets would be available - about 5,000 people in the Baltimore Archdiocese requested seats through an online service. Within the first hour, they exceeded the number of tickets officials were expecting to get from the Washington Archdiocese, said Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"We tried to alleviate the burden from the pastors," Caine said. "It's a difficult decision when you've got 500,000 registered Catholics and 2,500 tickets."

Archdiocesan officials then contacted parishes where no members had signed up at all. "We certainly wanted to have a representative group - we didn't want it to be only a group who had access to computers," Caine said.

All Baltimore's priests and deacons were invited to attend the Mass at Nationals Park. About 145 will be seated on the field in vestments to concelebrate the service.

Pope Benedict's limited itinerary reflects his age - he turns 81 on Wednesday - as well as heightened security concerns since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Church officials are trying to prevent people from buying or selling the tickets - especially through the online marketplaces that were in their infancy when Pope John Paul II came to Baltimore in 1995. To that end, the Archdiocese of Washington has sent what amounts to cease-and-desist letters to people trying to sell tickets through eBay or Craigslist, according to spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

Each ticket also has a gold-colored foil overlay to thwart fraud, as well as a bar code, and authorities have told adults to bring government-issued identification to the stadium.

Officials say there's sound theology behind the attempt to ban the sale of these tickets - the Catholic Church prohibits the practice of simony, or the sale of spiritual things, including sacraments. For example, tickets to Masses at the Vatican and audiences with the pontiff are always free, said Monsignor Robert J. Jaskot, chancellor of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

"Any sort of appearance of trafficking must be avoided," he said.

Local church officials further restricted the number of Nationals Park tickets by reserving 500 specifically for young people - high schoolers, college students and members of youth groups, according to Mark Pacione, the archdiocese's director of youth and young adult ministry. Sitting together in the stands, they'll be waving yellow bandanas emblazoned with the Pope's image.

"Everybody wants a leader to look up to, and already we know Benedict XVI ... says some very powerful things that are encouraging for young people," Pacione said. "We want them to develop that relationship."

Several youth ministers said they hope the Washington Mass will rekindle the emotion of their 1995 encounters with Pope John Paul II in Baltimore.

"I think the word awesome is completely overused in our language today, but it's totally appropriate here," said M. Colleen Sisolak, coordinator of youth ministry for St. John the Evangelist Church in Hydes.

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