The streets sparkle, banners have been hung, papal flags are flying, and anticipation hangs in the air.
Baltimore awaits Pope John Paul II.
The pope is scheduled to touch down at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 9:50 a.m. for the first visit to Maryland by a reigning pontiff.
He will be here only 10 hours, but more than a year of planning has gone into this day involving thousands of hours by hundreds of volunteers.
City workers and participants from the Archdiocese of Baltimore put the final touches on the papal preparations yesterday, from the installing of nearly a mile of crowd-control barriers to the final rehearsal for the Mass at Camden Yards.
"I feel a measure of confidence with each individual piece," said the Rev. Michael J. White, coordinator of the papal celebration, as he twiddled a small bottle of Tylenol in his fingers during a trouble-shooting walk-through in preparation for the visit.
"It's a question of each piece coming together. Faith is a trust in things hoped for. So this is a great test of faith."
At a final rehearsal for the 10:45 a.m. Mass and the morning celebration at Camden Yards, Father White, clad in a polo shirt, khaki slacks and shades, played the part of the pope. Acolytes bearing candles, incense and the Scriptures practiced taking their proper spots.
During a run-through of the grand finale, people danced in
colorful ethnic costumes, children in red shirts ran hand-in-hand across the field and dozens of flags from countries around the world dotted the outfield in front of the stage with the altar.
The Urban Mass Choir, comprising members from Baltimore's historically black parishes, rocked the stadium with an upbeat gospel song, "Sign Me up for the Christian Jubilee."
Three friends, Nicki Steinle of Towson, Mary Armour of Northeast Baltimore and Catherine Griffith of Loch Raven Village, were sitting at a metal bench and table in the concourse outside the stadium, peering in through the wrought-iron gate to watch the rehearsal. They sat there for nearly three hours yesterday.
"We haven't got tickets for tomorrow, so we thought we'd come today," Ms. Steinle said. "I wish we could be here tomorrow!"
L Ms. Armour said. "Do you think we could reserve this table?"
Even the five sign language interpreters who will be signing the Mass had to practice. "For example, evangelization, what is the sign for that? Or immigrant, there is no sign for that," said Kathie Duck, from the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City. "So we have to agree on what phrase we're going to use for that."
Some of the preparations for the pope's visit involved the spiritual. At St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church in Southwest Baltimore, a day-long "papal vigil" yesterday included two Masses, prayers, meditation, traditional expositions of the Blessed Sacrament and confessions heard nearly continuously by half a dozen Benedictine monks who speak five languages.
One of the monks, the Rev. Julian Stead, said that while there were no lines of penitents before any of the confessionals, as there might have been in another age, he was gratified by the slow, steady stream of those who came for the sacrament of reconciliation as a preparation for the papal visit.
The Right Rev. Paschal A. Morlino, pastor at St. Benedict's, had exhorted his congregation in the parish bulletin, "The whole city is alive with excitement. We have to ask, what are we doing to prepare ourselves for this momentous event in the history of our city and our own lives?"
Also preparing were church dissidents. At a downtown Baltimore hotel yesterday, Catholics representing four organizations calling for changes in their church's stands on clergy requirements and human sexuality held a news conference at which Pope John Paul was both praised and criticized.
"We expect him to bring a message of justice, compassion and respect for every human being, and we are grateful for that," said Denise Shannon, executive vice president of Catholics for a Free Choice.
"The trouble is," she said, "when he mentions such issues as sexuality and reproductive rights, these values of compassion, respect and justice no longer apply."
She was joined at the news conference by Sister Maureen Fiedler of the Catholics Speak Out group; Ruth M. Fitzpatrick, director of the Women's Ordination Conference; and Marianne Duddy, president of Dignity/USA, an organization of Catholic gays and lesbians.
A group of more than 50 members and friends of Dignity held a candlelight vigil and procession starting across from the Basilica of the Assumption and continuing through Mount Vernon.
"We want to witness to the fact that the institutional church is not welcoming to its gay and lesbian members," said Chuck Busnuk, who was acting as master of ceremonies for the prayer service. "We're not protesting against the pope. He's just the leader of a bureaucracy."
One of the final acts of preparation last night was a test spin along the downtown Baltimore parade route by the driver of the popemobile, which was shipped here yesterday by truck from New York.
"It's a rather large vehicle, and we want to make sure that it can manage the turns along the route," said Steve Mason, the head of the Baltimore office of the U.S. Secret Service. "The driver hasn't had the opportunity to drive in Baltimore, so he's going to take it out and get used to the streets."
Secret Service agents, who will be deploying counter-sniper marksmen on rooftops throughout the parade, also made their last-minute rounds yesterday. Forty-three mailboxes and more than 50 newspaper boxes -- all sites where bombs could be planted -- were removed by nightfall.
In all, more than 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers will be in Baltimore for the papal visit, and some stopped by stores along the papal routes yesterday to give final instructions to merchants.
One shop the Secret Service visited was the Musical Exchange at 422 N. Charles St., around the block from the Basilica and where a papal mug is for sale.
But the store won't be selling any papal mugs while the pope is in the neighborhood.
"The Secret Service told me the entire block's going to be roped off," said store owner Chris Armbruster. "I can be open, but no customers can come in from noon till 5 p.m. It's too bad, because this is a big event. Business would probably be booming."
City officials and private property owners have spruced up the downtown area for the pope, with some dilapidated or damaged buildings getting quick face-lifts.
Fresh white window frames replaced boarded-up plywood at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in the 400 block of N. Charles St., which had been heavily damaged in a June 1993 fire. The recent work was done in part because of the pope's visit, said curator Norman E. Ross.
"We wanted it to be in good shape for such an important and historic event. We've hung very nice paintings in the windows, too," Mr. Ross said.
Organizers of the celebration had their own logistical nightmares to deal with, but all seemed confident everything would come together. Kevin Appleby, who is in charge of communications, has distributed 250 two-way radios to the event staff.
Andrew Ballard has one of the most complex responsibilities during papal Sunday, the smooth movement of thousands of people from one crowded venue to the next.
He has arranged for 40 school buses to shuttle about 5,000 parade participants and celebrants from Caton and Wilkens avenues to Camden Yards. He is running a separate shuttle system to carry up to 1,000 out-of-town reporters from one event to the next. Yet a third shuttle system will ferry people from six different parking lots in North Baltimore to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
Partying began in earnest last night with a nationally televised, hour-long concert at the Pier 6 Pavilion headlined by Boyz II Men.
Some 4,500 music and/or pope lovers cheered, danced and sometimes sang along to music with a decidedly Christian -- if not necessarily Catholic -- beat.
"It was great," said 14-year-old Michelle Russell, a student at Mercy High School. "John Paul II and Boyz II Men, they're both great."
About the only people to leave unhappy last night were protesters and vendors, who spent the evening being largely ignored by just about everyone but the media.
For information on Pope John Paul II's Baltimore schedule and parade route today, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6200. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.
To receive a schedule and parade route map by fax, dial Sunfax at (410) 332-6123. After you hear the greeting, enter the information number 5200.