Cast of thousands behind scenes Volunteers pitching in to usher, drive, direct; youths act as greeters


POPE JOHN PAUL II MAY only be in Baltimore for half a day, but thousands of people, almost all of them volunteers, will have a hand in making the event happen.

A cadre of about 100 volunteers has been working for months, doing the mundane chores to prepare for the pope. Thousands more will pitch in Sunday, acting as ushers at Camden Yards, giving directions, serving as parade marshals and shuttling bishops to and from the airport.

Paul Coco, a human resources director at Hecht Co. and coordinator of volunteers, is himself a volunteer. He assembled the staff for the papal visit office at the Columbus Center, which is a seven-day-a-week command post. There is a constant buzz of ringing phones and tapping computer keyboards, and people dash from one cubicle to another for a seemingly endless series of meetings.

On the day of the papal visit, volunteers by the thousands will be on hand.

Members of the Knights of Columbus, who will wear their distinctive uniforms with plumed hats in the parade and outside the prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, also will act as chauffeurs for the bishops from around the country who need rides into town from the airport.

At Camden Yards, "host families," selected from parishes in the archdiocese, each will be in charge of a section of the stadium to welcome Mass attendees. Each will be responsible for retrieving a priest assigned to their section to distribute communion. They then will stand next to him, holding a red and white banner so people know where the communion station is.

Josephine Smith and her family will be in charge of section 80, a lower box in left field, while her fellow parishioner at St. Veronica's in Cherry Hill, Bea Merez, will greet people in nearby section 66.

During a rehearsal at Camden Yards on a recent Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Merez seemed a little overwhelmed as she looked at the block of seats that will be her responsibility. "We thought we were going to be in charge of a couple of rows," she said, shaking her head. "Twenty-two rows, 16 seats in each row. The kids are already overwhelmed by it."

Some of the most visible volunteers on the day of the pope's visit will be the 1,700 members of the Young Adult and Youth Corps, drawn from parishes, high schools and colleges across the state, who will wear yellow commemorative T-shirts, white hats and black pants.

In the morning, the youths will act as greeters in designated areas of downtown, outside light rail stations and paths leading to the stadium, answering questions and giving directions.

After the Mass, they will be a featured part of the papal parade. About 1,000 will march alongside the parade route, a line on both sides, providing a sort of escort for the pope. The rest will be in large groups on the parade route, partly to help spectators, possibly by leading cheers as they wait for the pope. "The idea is they would be energy for the crowd," said Joanne Cahoon, who is coordinating the youth corps.

But they also would provide a visible presence of youth for the pope. "Young people are a real priority for the Holy Father and there's a real magic that happens when they get together," Ms. Cahoon said. "We want to feed that magic."

"We call ourselves the Pope Patrol," said Ashley Candy, a senior at Loyola College.

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