POPES TEND NOT TO pop up much in these parts, so it's not surprising that there's been a certain amount of uneasiness among the local citizenry about how to conduct oneself in his presence. Who wants to be the one to blurt out an unfortunate "Hey, Hon" in front of a worldwide television audience, instantaneously transforming Charm City into Rubeville?
Well, relax. According to the Rev. Michael White, program developer for the papal visit, local customs, common sense and everyday courtesy are usually enough to get through a pope visitation without an embarrassing faux pas. Father White also provided the following tips for the uninitiated:
What do you call the pope in his presence?
You may call the pope Your Holiness, Holiness or Holy Father. The Italians call him il Papa, which is all right.
Is it appropriate to offer to shake his hand?
Yes. It is very appropriate to offer to shake hands in that if the Holy Father came into a room where you were, that is what he would do. He would come over to you and extend his hand in the expectation that you would take it and return the greeting in a like way.
Is it all right to kiss his ring?
Yes. In some cultures, the traditional greeting would be for a Catholic to take the Holy Father's hand and touch your lips to his ring. They do that as a sign of respect for his office. In some cultures, that's also accompanied with a genuflection on the left knee; you would go down on one knee. It really depends on the local culture. If you want to do it, you can.
Can you begin a conversation with the pope or should you wait for him to address you first?
I find more often than not that people initiate conversation with him before he has a chance to say a word. The pope comes to as a pastor, as a priest as, someone whose job it is to care for and care about people, so there aren't a lot of rules and protocol that apply.
Can you ask the pope to pray for you or someone important to you?
I certainly intend to if I get a chance to.
What should people wear to the Mass and the parade?
We're saying for the Mass - and even more emphatically for the parade - they should dress comfortably with an eye toward the weather. Whenever the pope travels, local dress customs prevail. I suspect what will happen is that people will tend to dress the way they dress for church at the Mass. At the parade, comfort should absolutely prevail.
Should Catholics go to confession before receiving Communion?
At any Mass, in order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, communicants should not be conscious of grave sin. The normal expectations that apply to Catholics in going to Mass apply to this one, but no additional ones apply.
Can non-Catholics receive Communion at the papal Mass?
No, because we don't have intercommunion because, unfortunately, Christendom is still divided. But there will be non-Catholics participating, and there will be an evening prayer service in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen with non-Catholics participating. It's an ecumenical event.
What should non-Catholics do at the papal Mass?
Participate fully and at the Communion time, join in prayers that Christianity will one day be united. Join us in prayers for the intentions we all hold: good will, universal peace.
What about non-Christians?
Non-Christians are also welcome to the Mass. For those who do not share a faith in Jesus, while we cannot extend to them an invitation to receive Communion, which most of them would not want to do anyway, we invite them to be united with us in prayer.
Can you hand the pope a memento?
Probably no. That's because our Secret Service friends don't like that. If someone succeeded in handing him something, which would be quite a feat, it would probably be taken out of his hands. What we are suggesting is that people not come to the parade or the Mass or the cathedral in the expectation that they can hand gifts to the pope because of security reasons.
A number of American dignataries, the president, the governor, the mayor, are expected to meet the pope. Is there any special protocol they must observe in the pope's presence?