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Nothing left to chance for pope Detailed preparations for visit under way in churches, stadium


An article in Tuesday's Sun incorrectly reported that renovations costing $165,000 to the Basilica of the Assumption were made in preparation for Pope John Paul II's visit Oct. 8. According to the Rev. Michael White, program director for the papal visit, the maintenance and renewal projects had been long planned and were not related to the visit.

The Sun regrets the error.

From the 80,000 wafers needed for the Holy Communion to the two tons of steel for the altar crucifix, the planning for the pope's visit to Baltimore is a task of nearly biblical proportions.

It took six nuns of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd two full weeks to make the communion wafers from flour and water. Three hundred priests will distribute 50,000 of them, grandstand by grandstand, during Pope John Paul II's Oct. 8 Mass at Camden Yards.

"This is the biggest single order we've ever filled," said Sister Louise Cecelia Greenfield, a superior in the order of nuns based in Baltimore and Washington. "The sisters said special prayers for the pope while they were making them, as well as for all the people coming that day."

Beginning the moment the pontiff's plane stops on a specially marked red "X" at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the pope will be the center of an ecclesiastical extravaganza that will be exhaustive in detail, involving everyone from schoolchildren to Secret Service counter-snipers.

The papal visit is the first ever to Baltimore and will follow Pope John Paul's four-day trip to the New York area. Organizers expect 50,000 people for the stadium Mass and at least a quarter-million for the downtown parade after the service.

Plans have been worked out in painstaking detail for months. That's a lot of work, considering that the pope will be in town

only for 12 hours.

"We've been preparing for this for a year. If you think about it, that's a month of planning for every hour he's here," said Baltimore archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is being transformed from a baseball jewel to a Roman Catholic cathedral, with a 5,000-pound, 34-foot steel crucifix standing as a backdrop to the giant papal altar in center field.

"The cross is very big," said its designer, Demir Hamami -- so big that it must be assembled at the ballpark with a crane and hydraulic lift.

At the Basilica of the Assumption, the nation's first Catholic cathedral, workers have given the building a $165,000 face lift in preparation for the pope's 30-minute tour.

Experts have been hired to provide soft lighting for television cameras during the pope's prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where 700 Catholic school children will be waiting to greet the Holy Father's motorcade.

About a thousand journalists are expected in town, ranging from Polish television crew members to in-house writers from the Vatican.

And the archdiocese has estimated that 700 buses packed with Catholics will arrive shortly after dawn at Camden Yards, coming from parishes all over the state.

St. Margaret's in Bel Air, the largest parish in the Baltimore archdiocese, has rented 18 school buses and has borrowed parking space near the church to accommodate them.

"I've been using a computer to keep track of all the arrangements for the trip. We have 764 tickets, and I still have about 400 people on a waiting list," said parish administrator Karen Saccenti.

Thorough preparations

Nearly everything imaginable has been researched and reviewed, from the hymns to be sung to the hide-outs where criminals could take cover.

"The counter-sniper teams have surveyed all the areas along the parade route. They visited virtually every building site," said Steve Mason, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the federal Secret Service.

Federal officials said security for the pope, who was shot at St. Peter's Square in 1981 by a Turkish assailant, is a logistical challenge rivaling presidential protection.

"It's no easy job. We've got to be 360 degrees around him at all times," Agent Mason said.

In their preparatory sweeps, counter-snipers identified the places where assassins could hide and wait. Police plan to fly PTC overhead in helicopters and prowl the streets with bomb-sniffing dogs. About 1,000 state and federal law enforcement officers will be involved in providing security for the pope, a source said.

More than a dozen portable metal detectors are being brought in from Washington for the sites the pope will visit. BWI will have four extra portable metal detectors and a radar screen. Vice President Al Gore and his wife are expected for the pope's departure from the airport.

Before the parade begins, federal agents plan to remove mail and newspaper boxes as well as trash cans -- all receptacles that could be used to hide a bomb -- Agent Mason said. Sewer manhole covers will be sealed, and the Federal Aviation Administration has forbidden private flights over the downtown area during the papal visit.

Undercover officers could be anywhere. "Putting an agent in a priest uniform would not be out of the question," Agent Mason said.

The agents aren't the only ones who might be undercover. Giant advertising signs on the scoreboard at Camden Yards, in particular the "Bud: King of Beers" ad, will likely be covered with canvas.

Preserving solemnity

"We felt it to be inappropriate for the pope to be delivering mass with a huge Budweiser sign behind him," said Mr. Blaul. "It's a matter of preserving the solemnity of the Mass. We're not trying to offend Budweiser," he said, noting that the pope occasionally has a glass of beer himself.

The ballpark has taken on a different feel in recent weeks as hundreds have come to rehearse songs and marches on the outfield grass. On Sunday, more than 500 children and young adults -- brightly dressed in red and white -- pranced through their routines.

Rather than batting averages, it was Scripture on the scoreboard -- "Help me tread in the paths of righteousness," read one passage.

Stadium officials expect to use the JumboTron screen to broadcast the pope's arrival at the airport and show the parade.

Communion for 50,000 worshipers

A chief aim of the rehearsals is to keep the communion time under 10 minutes, a tough goal considering that 50,000 people will be taking part.

"Each of the 162 sections of the stadium will be it's own little church. No minister will have to deliver more than 200 hosts [communion wafers]," said Mary Anne Johnson, assistant producer of the papal Mass. "We'll also be delivering communion in all the skyboxes."

Ms. Johnson and others visited about a half-dozen parishes around Maryland and Delaware to time how long it takes for communion to be delivered.

"The times were never as long as we thought they'd be. At St. Ann's in Bethany Beach, they delivered communion to 750 people in six minutes and 35 seconds," Ms. Johnson said.

Both Ms. Johnson and Father James M. Barker, the papal Mass producer, said they hope to deliver the Camden Yards communion in seven minutes.

"Timing is going to be of the essence. We don't want to keep the Holy Father waiting," Ms. Johnson said.

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