Patricia Czarski lifts a Venetian blind and pokes her head out a second-story window of a Highlandtown rowhouse to greet Pope John Paul II in pure Bawlmer-ese. "Believe it or not, hon, the Vatican has something in common with Hollin'-town."
Her Linwood Avenue neighbor, Stella Walas, takes the cue, pausing as she goes at her marble steps with a scrub brush. "We hear you have marble steps, too," she says. "And this is the way I do mine." Then Mrs. Czarski, Mrs. Walas and another neighbor, Anna Mister, join in unison: "Welcome to Baltimore, Pope John Paul!"
Never mind that the Holy Father isn't to arrive here until Oct. 8. Maryland has already prepared its hometown welcomes to the pope '90s-style -- in a 30-minute videotape.
The gift to the pontiff captures slices of life from Highlandtown to Emmitsburg, from the waters of the Chesapeake to the steps of inner-city schools, from rural farms of Western Maryland to Camden Yards.
Three weeks before John Paul is to watch the tape while flying from New York to Baltimore aboard his "Shepherd I" plane, television viewers in Baltimore and Washington will get a preview of the segments. Network and cable stations, which receive the video today,have agreed to air the spots as public-service announcements promoting the pope's visit and related events.
The video opens at Camden Yards, site of the Oct. 8 papal Mass, with Rafael Palmeiro homering, drawing a standing ovation, then saying: "If they give me a standing ovation, imagine the welcome they'll give you." In the background, the scoreboard flashes "WELCOME TO BALTIMORE POPE JOHN PAUL II."
Fort McHenry rangers, clad in 19th-century soldiers garb, point to the ramparts that staved off the British in the War of 1812. "It was an extraordinary moment," one says. "Your visit to Baltimore is another extraordinary moment in our history. We guarantee an historic welcome."
Aboard a skipjack, Edgewater waterman Bill Curry offers his greetings as he pulls a trap full of blue crabs from the bay. Colts great Tom Matte sits in the boxes at Memorial Stadium with former teammates and recalls the glory days, then the video cuts to images of the "world's largest outdoor insane asylum."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Baltimore Stallions owner Jim Speros weigh in with their welcomes. So do seminarians, schoolchildren, farmers, Naval Academy midshipmen, college lacrosse players, jockeys, a police officer and choir singers who will perform for the pope.
And, of course, Rex Barney says, "Thank youuu" as only he can.
Each TV spot, accompanied by soft background music, closes with the Archdiocese of Baltimore's yellow, red and white papal visit logo, a toll-free number for information, (800-456-5353), and the logo for Bon Secours Baltimore Health Corp., which financed the estimated $15,000 cost of the video.
Wordpicture Writing Services and Ed Reahl Productions put together the video. Volunteers devoted hundreds of hours over a two-month span to help choose subjects, schedule shoots and such, the producers offered discounts, saving $10,000 to $15,000 compared with what such a project normally would cost.
Cardinal William H. Keeler came up with the video idea, seeking a distinctive gift that offered a more personalized view of Maryland than the written welcomes included in a book of greetings prepared before cancellation of the pope's scheduled Baltimore visit last year.
"We didn't want to give him a gift from Stieff silver or something," said project coordinator Donna Guba, the Greater Baltimore Committee's member services director. "We wanted to give him something that would be unique to Baltimore and to the region."
It is a gift to the pope, she said, but also a gift to Marylanders and, for those whose fleeting images will appear from here to the Vatican, the source of the sort of priceless memories passed on to children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Czarski, one of the proud Highlandtown goodwill ambassadors, gets giddy with anticipation when she thinks of John Paul seeing her and her neighbors and listening as they tell him about "one of the best-known neighborhoods in Baltimore."
"Certainly, it's once-in-a-lifetime," said the 57-year-old mother of three. "It's definitely something you pass down through the generations."
"Words can't describe it," said co-star Capt. Ron Nelson, who appears on the video with his crew aboard his Baltimore Harbor tugboat. "It's a big honor because the pope, you know, he's the man, you know what I mean?"
A 37-year-old Catholic, Mr. Nelson ponders the Tug America guys greeting the spiritual successor to St. Peter. "I think the pope is next to God," he said.
Only one thing could top it, Mr. Nelson said, one thing that would amount to answered prayers, maybe even a small miracle:
"I hope the pope would come out and say, 'I want to take a ride with that guy on his boat.' "