SIMPLICITY, WITH A Tidewater touch, is the theme of the papal altar that will be erected in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the outdoor Mass of Pope John Paul II.
Eschewing the more elaborate designs that have been executed for papal Masses in other U.S. cities, planners in Baltimore sought to create a setting that is as appropriate for the Oct. 8 event as Oriole Park is for the city itself.
After deciding that the service for nearly 50,000 people would be celebrated outdoors in Baltimore's classic downtown ballpark, they designed the altar to capture the feeling of a field Mass - simple and uncluttered.
"The Lord is the architect. Simplicity is the rule," said Cardinal William H. Keeler, who has worked with a team of local designers and builders. "We hope that when people walk into the stadium, they will be struck by the simplicity of the setting, the stage and the entire site."
The stage will be a 40-foot by 60-foot wood-and-metal platform that will be constructed in center field so its top surface is three feet above the playing field.
It will be surrounded by sloping grass berms that will create a continuous flow from the field to the stage. Its edge will be framed by chrysanthemums and other indigenous flowers and foliage in rich autumn colors, creating the look of a Tidewater landscape. The altar, lectern and chair platform will be detailed minimally to place emphasis on the pope and the celebration of the Mass.
Certain advertising placards in and around center field will be covered during the service.
"That setting should be appropriate for a papal Mass, and we would not want commercial advertising displayed in a prominent manner over the pope's shoulder," said archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul.
Temporarily concealing some of the graphics, including the "Hit It Here" sign, will also remove some of the visual clutter that may be appropriate for a ballgame but not for a religious service, he explained. "We're not trying to make it look as if it's not the Camden Yards ballpark, but we don't want it to look like it's a rock show."
A 33-foot-tall translucent cross was commissioned and donated by Catholic Relief Services. Its stigmas in crimson symbolize Christ's death on the cross, and a shroud of gold fabric represents his Resurrection. After the service, Catholic Relief Services - the U.S. Catholic Conference's overseas relief and development agency - will install the cross at its Baltimore headquarters on West Fayette Street as a permanent reminder of the pope's visit.
The papal altar design team was led by Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet of Baltimore, with Glen Tipton as principal-in-charge; Andrew Guljas as project manager; Frederick Hiser and Charles Hovancik as project architects; and Karyn Schmitt as interior designer.
Graham Landscape Architecture of Annapolis was the landscape architect. Harkins Builders is the contractor, and Harkins Carpentry and Supply handled carpentry. Cabinart of Linthicum fabricated the cross. Morabito Consultants was the structural engineer.
These firms have donated their services for the event along with a dozen other contractors and suppliers. Mr. Tipton said no one has tried to put a combined value on the donations, and no one intends to do so.