Tickets to pope's Mass free but tough to get

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It will be the hottest ticket in town, and it will be literally priceless.

If you're not a cardinal, a bishop or a practicing Roman Catholic who wins a parish lottery, you're likely to be shut out of the 47,000 tickets to Pope John Paul II's Oct. 8 Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

You can probably forget those old standbys, ticket brokers and scalpers. Broker services, which have no problem accepting many times the face value of tickets for sporting events or concerts, say they will not be selling tickets for the papal Mass.

"Free tickets to a religious event is not something we would typically get involved with selling," said Marc Matthews, a spokesman for the Washington Area Ticket Brokers Association, which covers the Washington-Baltimore corridor.

"We as an association wouldn't feel right charging for a free ticket to go to church," he said.

Doug Endzel, manager of A Way to Tickets in Glen Burnie, seconded Mr. Matthews.

"If it's a giveaway ticket for a religious ceremony, I don't think that ethically you'd want to resell something like that," he said.

And church officials say they're not concerned that there will be any widespread scalping, which is illegal in Baltimore but permitted elsewhere. They're betting that those lucky enough to receive a ticket will not be willing to part with it, no matter the price.

"Scalping is something that we've heard brought up, but is it going to occur? We doubt it, because of what they went through to get it," said Bill Blaul, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"You really couldn't put a price tag on the value of these tickets for the people who are receiving them. I think a lot of them are frankly offended at the notion of anyone scalping them," he said.

The archdiocese has instituted several security measures to prevent anyone from producing bogus tickets. "We've been very diligent in not showing the media, or anybody else, what the tickets look like so they can be copied, or duplicated or counterfeitted," Mr. Blaul said.

There are security measures on the tickets themselves, which church officials of course would not disclose, that will distinguish them from counterfeits. And tickets will only be handed over to the pastor or designated representative of a parish during a parish fair Sept. 15 at the Columbus Center in the Inner Harbor. "They'll go into a secure room, and we'll be checking IDs," Mr. Blaul said.

There is one other way to score a ticket: If you know someone who controls one of the 874 seats in the 72 luxury skyboxes at Camden Yards, you may have an in. A provision of the skybox lease states that the owner is entitled to attend any event held at the stadium.

"They leased their box for an entire year, so it's theirs to use," said Julie Wagner, Orioles director of community relations.

Archdiocesan officials accept that fact, even though they face great demand among Catholics for Mass tickets.

"That was not something for us to decide as to who is going to sit in those seats," said Mr. Blaul. Since box holders are entitled to events at Camden Yards, "we have an obligation to provide tickets for one of those events, which is the papal Mass . . . in a quantity that is in proportion to the number of seats they have."

Mr. Blaul said it is possible that some skybox holders will decide to turn their tickets over to the archdiocese rather than face the hassle of trying to decide who will use them.

Several box holders contacted yesterday said they had not decided who will use the tickets.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that unless he is asked to sit in some other VIP section, he will be in the governor's skybox with his family and close friends.

And a spokesman for Crown Central Petroleum Corp. said the 10 tickets in its skybox have already been claimed by company executives, including chairman Henry A. Rosenberg.

"People are very interested in this historic event, whether they be Catholic or not," said Joseph Coale, a Crown Central Petroleum spokesman.

But a certain level of decorum is expected. Wine and cheese parties during the Mass will not be tolerated.

"The people who own those boxes are fully aware that this is not a ballgame," Mr. Blaul said.

Skyboxes notwithstanding, it is the desire of archdiocesan officials to get as many of the tickets as possible into the hands of the Catholic faithful in Baltimore and its environs.

There will definitely be 47,000 seats available for church officials to dole out. There is a possibility of adding 3,000 more seats on the Camden Yards field in the event of an unhappy contingency: the Orioles don't make the playoffs. If the O's rally and qualify for post-season play, there would be great concern about damaging the playing field.

The archdiocese will try to avoid damaging the playing field in any way in the event that there is a playoff, Mr. Blaul said. "Baseball fan or not, in this organization everyone is looking in the paper to check the standings."

The best seats in the house, possibly the only ones that will be on the field, will be set up in front of the altar in center field and reserved for bishops and priests concelebrating the Mass with the pope.

Every one of the approximately 300 bishops in the country has been invited to concelebrate with the pope. "He selects one location in every visit to each nation where he wants to invite that nation's bishops to come concelebrate Mass with him, and for this visit, it's Oriole Park at Camden Yards," Mr. Blaul said.

Of the 47,000 seats that will definitely be available, 10,000 will be distributed to the neighboring dioceses of Washington, Wilmington, Arlington, Richmond, Wheeling-Charleston and Harrisburg. "That's what the protocol is for events like this," Mr. Blaul said.

But there are no special provisions being made for dignitaries, civic or political, to attend the Mass. Those dignitaries, along with representatives from other denominations and religions, will be invited to attend a prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Sunday evening.

"The Holy Father said he wanted to celebrate Mass with the parishioners of the archdiocese, and that is what the Mass is being developed for," Mr. Blaul said. "We know we could fill the stadium many times over with just the Catholic faithful who would like to attend. . . . Knowing that with more than 460,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore alone and 47,000 seats to work with, you can see right there that there would be many disappointed Catholics."

With such great demand, extreme care is being taken to ensure that tickets are distributed as equitably as possible.

Parishes have been allotted tickets in proportion to their size, and most have opted to distribute them basically by putting the names of any parishioner who wants a ticket into a hat and pulling out the winners.

"We're having a lottery. That way nobody can be accused of playing favorites," said the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Baltimore, which will receive 44 tickets. "I'll make sure there are at least 4 people present, so everyone can testify that no hanky-panky took place."

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