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Pope's visit spurs plans by many religious groups


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.

Six buildings of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland may be included. In addition to Old St. Paul's, they are the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Mount Calvary, Grace and St. Peter's, and St. Katherine's -- all in the city -- and All Saints Convent in Catonsville.

Three United Methodist churches -- Lovely Lane, Mount Vernon Place and Old Otterbein -- are on the "wish list," as are two Lutheran churches -- St. Mark's and Zion.

Other churches that the committee hopes will take part include First and Franklin Street Presbyterian, First Unitarian, New Psalmist Baptist, University Baptist, Bethel A.M.E. and St. Andrew's Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation has agreed to participate.

Father Roach said the committee hopes to involve the Lloyd Street Synagogue and Jewish Historical Society and possibly another Jewish landmark or two.

Baltimore's two Catholic cathedrals -- the Basilica of the Assumption and the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen -- will be secured by the Secret Service and thus open only to invited guests until after the pope leaves town, Father Roach said.

Requests for tickets to the papal Mass at Camden Yards are expected to exceed the 48,262 capacity. But discussions are under way about televising the Mass on large screens outside the stadium, possibly in the Baltimore Arena or the Convention Center.

Downtown hotels and restaurants anticipate good business during the weekend, but most of the city's major hotels still have rooms available for the nights of Oct. 22 and 23.


Here's the schedule for Pope John Paul II's visit to Baltimore on Oct. 23:

* 9:45 a.m. -- Pope John Paul arrives at Baltimore-Washington International Airport from New York and is greeted by dignitaries before traveling by motorcade to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

* 10:30 a.m. -- Mass begins at Camden Yards after Pope John Paul circles the stadium's warning track in his white "Popemobile."

* 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m. -- Interfaith parade is led by the pope in his bulletproof, glass-sided vehicle on Pratt Street from Russell Street east to Light Street, north on Light to Baltimore Street and west to Charles Street, then north on Charles to Saratoga Street.

* 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. -- Pope John Paul prays privately in the Basilica of the Assumption and has lunch and rests at the Archbishop's Residence, 408 N. Charles St.

* 6 p.m. -- Arriving at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in a motorcade, the pope conducts a prayer service for ecumenical and civic representatives and clergy, sisters and lay leaders of the parishes of the archdiocese.

* 7 p.m. -- The pope meets briefly with students and faculty at St. Mary's Seminary and University before boarding a helicopter for BWI.

* 7:30 p.m. -- Departure ceremony at BWI, possibly attended by President Clinton.


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