The Rev. Donald Fest went to the Columbus Center yesterday to pick up 73 tickets for his parishioners at St. Veronica's Church in Cherry Hill to attend Pope John Paul II's Oct. 8 Mass at Camden Yards.
But when Father Fest opened the envelope in a secured counting room, there were only 15 tickets. "I nearly went into cardiac arrest," he said, contemplating the prospect of breaking the news to a disappointed flock.
Father Fest and representatives of the other parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore received their bundles of Mass tickets, bus passes and clergy credentials yesterday at a festive Celebration Parish Fair, complete with bands and balloons. Attendance was limited to parish representatives and the media.
It turns out the pastor switched the numbers on his ticket order form. He wanted to order 15 extra tickets, but entered that number on the line where the original order was supposed to go.
"It was our mistake," Father Fest said. It was quickly resolved by the staff and he received his full complement of tickets. "I was OK after they gave me some oxygen."
The archdiocese has printed 47,000 seat-specific tickets for the Mass. Neighboring dioceses received 10,000, and most of the rest were allocated to the parishes based on size. Smaller received several dozen tickets; larger parishes received several
hundred. Most had lottery drawings to determine who would get to attend the Mass.
There is the possibility that 3,000 more seats can be added to the Camden Yards field, if the Orioles don't make it to the playoffs and if the extra seating could be included without damaging the field, archdiocesan officials said. Those seats would be distributed to parishes that requested additional tickets.
Parishes received scattered seat locations, so everyone will receive some good seats and some-not-so-desirable seats. Even guests of Cardinal William H. Keeler will receive random seating.
"Everybody is getting random seats," said Monsignor W. Francis Malooly, chancellor of the archdiocese.
The concern yesterday for organizers of the papal visit was that the right number of tickets land in the right hands. To ensure that happened, the tickets were to be picked up by each pastor or his designated representative.
"So either that person or the pastor has to show up here and sign for the tickets," said Patricia Kelly, who organized yesterday's event. "If there's any doubt, they have to show identification."
After they received the tickets, the parish representatives were escorted to a secured room so they could count them. That's where Father Fest discovered his mistake. Others found more tickets in their packet than they were supposed to receive.
"There have been three parishes [so far] where we miscounted," Jim DeBoy, the archdiocese director of religious education who was overseeing the ticket distribution, said about halfway through the event. "But people were honest about it, told us and gave us back the extra tickets."
Despite the heavy demand for papal Mass tickets, 10 parishes decided they couldn't use their full complement. Some were in Western Maryland, where the long journey with an early start (Mass attendees must be in their seats by 8 a.m.) dampened enthusiasm for the Mass. Other parishes had large congregations of elderly, for whom climbing stairs and sitting for hours in the sun would be difficult.
Now that the tickets have been distributed, Mass organizers have suggested that pastors hold onto them and wait until their parishioners are on the buses the morning of Oct. 8 before they give them out so tickets aren't misplaced.