Across Baltimore, disappointment, resignation


Paula Linski was brushing her teeth at home in South Baltimore yesterday when something about the pope came on the radio. She walked from the bathroom to her bedroom to listen more closely.

And then she went downstairs to tell her mother.

"Mom," she said. "He's not coming."

Elizabeth Linski looked at her daughter and said: "I know."

By the end of breakfast yesterday, almost everybody knew: Pope John Paul II had canceled his Oct. 23 visit to Baltimore because of health problems.

Disappointment was widespread -- from artisans sculpting a 33-foot cross for the papal Mass at Camden Yards to profit-minded businesses to common folk who never thought they'd see a pope in person. Prayers for the 74-year-old pontiff's recovery were offered at morning Masses throughout the state.

"I had to hear it twice to believe it," said Paula Linski, 23, a sixth-grade teacher at Lansdowne Elementary School who was scheduled to sing at a pre-Mass celebration with the Loyola College Chapel Choir. "We even translated one of the verses into Polish. I'll get over it."

George Miller, Loyola's musical director, admitted a little relief. "The students were going to sing for 50,000 people in center field at Camden Yards, but I was bogged down by the logistics," he said.

The 162 parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore were in the midst of deciding how to distribute tickets to the Camden Yards Mass when the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul was too weak from hip surgery to visit the United States. The trip has been rescheduled for November of 1995.

"I'm sorry he's sick, but if he can't make it, you know, it wasn't meant to be," said Evelyn Jakowski, a member of Holy Redeemer Chapel in Highlandtown.

"One of our ladies came in and told me before Mass [yesterday] and I was flabbergasted. We prayed for his speedy recovery."

The economic loss to Baltimore is "in the millions," said Gil Stotler of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "The hotels would have been full," he said. "People would have spent a lot in restaurants."

At the Mount Vernon Hotel, phone lines buzzed with cancellations as more than 75 guests -- or about $8,000 in business -- called off their plans by afternoon. "We were designated one of the press hotels," said general manager Richard Petras. "We anticipated selling out. . . . It's not a good thing."

Bus companies felt the impact early, as parish after parish called in to cancel their orders as soon as the news broke. Eyre Bus Service of Glenelg estimated its loss at more than $100,000.

"The first thing I did today was cancel our buses -- we ordered five of them," said the Rev. Robert G. Hawkins, pastor of St. Rita's in Dundalk.

"Our people were disappointed, but most of them already knew that this man doesn't look so good lately. They accept it."

One of the first things Joyce S. Poling did yesterday was to wake up Tim Blum and tell the Maryland Institute sculptor he could stop working on the cross -- the 1,200-to-1,600 pound, 33-foot-high and 22-foot-wide, steel and wood and stained-glass cross that was to have been lowered into Camden Yards by helicopter. About $4,000 has already been spent on the design.

Ms. Poling, creative director for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, which commissioned the cross, was also going to order 53,000 felt pennants for the Mass. "Whether you're Catholic or not," she said, "this was not an everyday thing."

About 170 volunteers had also been recruited to staff kiosks at the basilica and to participate in the papal parade.

Other groups were determined to move forward without the pope.

Call to Action Baltimore, which advocates reform within the Roman Catholic Church, said several events will still go on, including a 5 p.m. ecumenical prayer service at Old Otterbein United Methodist Church at the Inner Harbor on Oct. 22.

"There are issues we need to discuss whether the pope is in Rome or Baltimore," said Fred Ruof, a group spokesman.

Mary Portera is just sorry she's going to miss the parade.

"I couldn't get tickets to the Mass, but I had all my plans to sit there on Charles Plaza and wave to him," said the longtime office manager at the St. Jude Shrine on Paca Street. "My family was going to come in from out of town and sit with me. So, we'll have prayers for the Holy Father to get well. What else can you do?"

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