Not all of Baltimore will be welcoming Pope John Paul II with open arms during his visit here Sunday.
Several groups, including those representing gay and lesbian Catholics, feminists, pro-choice activists and proponents of the ordination of woman and married men are planning protests in the days leading up to the papal visit. One of the larger gatherings will be a counter-parade Sunday afternoon that will run in the opposite direction of the papal parade.
Bill Blaul, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said such protests are inevitable.
"It's a free country and everybody's got their right to say what they want to say," Mr. Blaul said.
The first note of dissent will be a full-page advertisement in today's Sun sponsored by Catholics Speak Out, a program of the Quixote Center, a liberal group based in Prince George's county that advocates international social justice.
The ad was signed by more than 2,500 Catholics and 82 church-affiliated groups from around the country, including more than 170 signatories in Maryland. In light of the decline in ordinations to the priesthood, which has left some churches without a priest to preside at Mass, the ad calls on John Paul to begin a dialogue about the possibility for ordaining women and allowing for a noncelibate priesthood. "Today, the male celibate priesthood is an unnecessary burden that threatens our communion together," the ad says.
"We need to do whatever is necessary to let the Eucharist stay central to the Roman Catholic Church's worship," said the Rev. William R. Callahan of the Quixote Center. "From our vantage point, the Eucharist is far more central than is the church's discipline on ministry. Our language says that, but our practice doesn't."
Catholics Speak Out has placed similar full-page advertisements the past in the New York Times and Washington Post, addressing issues that need challenging within the church, Father Callahan said.
Several groups are planning protests Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night, members of Dignity/Baltimore, an organization of gay, lesbian and bisexual Catholics, will hold a candlelight vigil and procession beginning outside the Basilica of the Assumption.
"We're doing it because we think there are a number of issues that the church, and more specifically John Paul II, is ignoring that are bringing pain to people," said Jim Caskey, president of Dignity/Baltimore. "We want to try to reach them and let them know their pain is shared and they need to move beyond the pain."
The procession will begin at 6:15 p.m. in front of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, across from the Basilica. After lighting candles and reading scripture, the procession will move to Mount Vernon for more prayer. Closing prayers will take place in a park in the 800 block of N. Calvert St.
Mr. Caskey said that some might call for a more strident presence, Dignity chose a more spiritual way to deliver its point of view. "We are delivering a prayerful message in a prayerful fashion," he said.
On Sunday, a coalition of groups opposed to the pope will hold a rally and counter-parade to the papal parade from Camden Yards to the Basilica. The counter-parade is scheduled to begin at noon, with a route that runs from the Washington Monument to Camden Yards, which is generally in the opposite direction of the papal parade.
The coalition sponsoring the counter parade includes the Baltimore chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Workers World Party, the All People's Congress, BaltiBARF (bi-sexual and radical feminists) and Socialist Action.
Members of the coalition have a wide range of reasons for opposing the pope. "Some people are looking at it strictly from a reproductive rights standpoint. Some people are looking at it strictly from a women's rights frame of mind," said Rebeccah Deathbush, who described herself as a witch and a member of BaltiBARF. "The reason why I'm doing this is not because I'm anti-Catholic, but because I'm anti-oppression," Ms. Deathbush said.
In what could be one of the more controversial of the protests, members of BaltiBARF will station themselves outside of the Saturday night concert, which will feature Boyz II Men, to hand out condoms and brochures on safer sex to youths attending the event.
Mr. Blaul said he thought it inappropriate to interfere with such an event attended by Catholic youth. "I think it's insensitive and objectionable," he said.