Sister Katherine Louise Nueslein beamed yesterday. "We hear so much bad news -- this is the good news," she said.
The nun had been listening at the Basilica of the Assumption as some of her teen-age charges from Southwest Baltimore spoke excitedly about praying with Pope John Paul II in Denver a year ago, and they offered their predictions of what his visit here in October will accomplish.
"Denver was great. You had a whole bunch of people together who felt it was right to be a Catholic. No one discriminated against you," recalled Sasha Savage, 16.
"It can happen here, too," the City College student said. "My hope is that when the pope comes, it will bring more people together in Baltimore to see the Catholic Church for what it represents. There are other things than drugs and stuff like that -- things that result in violence."
Sasha's sister, Tanya, 14, a student at Southwestern High School, agreed. "Everybody was friendly and understanding in Denver when the pope was there," she said. "I hope when he comes to Baltimore it will change attitudes in the neighborhoods, stop the violence."
The Savage sisters are parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church at Poppleton and Hollins streets, where Sister Katherine Louise -- a Sister of Mercy -- is on the staff.
St. Peter's is one of 16 old city churches that the Baltimore archdiocese has announced may have to be closed next year because of dwindling congregations and shortages of priests and money.
Sister Katherine Louise lamented that the doors of St. Peter's -- "such a beautiful church" -- must be kept locked, except during services, to protect the church from vandalism and theft. She said schools such as Southwestern High must be maintained "like a fortress."
But the hopeful spirit kept alive at St. Peter's was evident yesterday at the Basilica on Cathedral Street, where about 100 people, mostly mothers and their children, assembled for a Mass to pray for the success of preparations for the pope's visit Oct. 23.
Among the church's preparatory events is a National Marian Conference set for Sept. 16-18 at the Baltimore Arena, where the focus will be on the traditional Catholic devotions to the mother of Jesus -- such as saying the rosary -- which are emphasized by John Paul's teachings and example.
Sister Katherine Louise said she sensed "almost a revival, a rejuvenation of faith," in the excitement over the papal visit.
James Gouldin, the director of altar boys at St. Peter's, who was an adult helper at last August's World Youth Day events presided over by Pope John Paul, was also optimistic about what the pope's trip to Baltimore can accomplish.
"It won't stop right away the need to keep the church doors
locked," Mr. Gouldin said, "but at least we can begin to work toward the day when they can be left open again."
The Mass at the Basilica was offered by the Rev. Richard C. Lobert, youth coordinator for the Marian Conference. In gift-wrapped boxes piled before a picture of the pope near the altar were 15,000 rosaries, hand-made by a group of Catholic women for distribution to students in the archdiocese.
"Throughout the history of our church," Father Lobert said, "the people we call heroes or saints were very attached to the mother of God.
"Pope John Paul is sometimes called a Marian pope. He often speaks of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our contemporary faith, as part of his vision for the church as the 21st century approaches. The Second Vatican Council helped us to see that Mary was a pilgrim, one of us, and that she is an example of faith for us.
"One of the things that the Holy Father has tried to make us realize is the very important role of Mary in working out God's plan for the church today."
Dan Cunningham, a 16-year-old parishioner of St. Bartholomew's Parish in Manchester, Carroll County, and Jonathan Ng, 15, a Harford County resident who is a parishioner of St. Ignatius Church in Hickory, wore their World Youth Day '93 T-shirts to yesterday afternoon's Mass.
"There were two things that I think were the most important lessons for me from seeing the pope in
Denver," Dan said. "One is that, as Catholics, we're part of something much bigger than I had realized. And the other is that our responsibility as youth is to stand up and express our faith. It all starts with us."
He said he thinks it's important for people in Baltimore to come out and see the pope in person, whether at Camden Yards or along the parade route, and not just on television. "You can see and hear him on TV," he said, "but it's not the same. You can't relate to him the way you do when he is talking directly to you."
Dan's friend Jonathan, whose father, a chemist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was born in Hong Kong, said he saw the compatibility of the many thousands of youthful delegates last year in Denver as "kind of an example for the whole world, for all the nations. The pope said that, no matter what country we're from, we're like a big family. I felt safe all the time in Denver."
Dan Cunningham referred to the dramatic drop in crime during the pope's visit there. "I hope he influences Baltimore the same way," he said.