At times, the only sound to be heard in the heart of downtown Baltimore was the flutter of gold-and-white papal flags in the autumnal breeze.
It was a rare quietude, an air of gentle contemplation that settled over the tens of thousands who gathered around the Inner Harbor yesterday, lining the streets to mark the presence nearby of Pope John Paul II. The city has seen such crowds before, but no other moment -- not a World Series victory or a Preakness festivity or a New Year's party -- has produced such a contented silence.
Beneath the flags in McKeldin Square -- renamed Celebration Square for this one day -- the crowd sat or stood, encircled by three huge screens televising the Sunday Mass being celebrated four blocks away at Camden Yards. Some held hands, others closed their eyes in prayer; a few murmured familiar portions of the liturgy.
Baltimore's harbor has had many incarnations -- bustling waterfront, rotting skid row, glittering showpiece -- but this transformation was perhaps the most unlikely. This was an open-air cathedral.
"Never in our wildest dream did we picture ourselves sitting in the middle of Light Street watching a Mass on a big screen, waiting for the popemobile," said Ida Sarsitis.
Ms. Sarsitis, who grew up in nearby Little Italy, was among scores who sat in the crosswalk at Pratt and Light streets, watching the stadium ceremony and waiting for their chance to glimpse the pontiff. Others sat in the center lanes of Pratt, or rested themselves in the ivy-covered berms that border the square.
The Catholic devout turned out in large numbers, but the spirit of the papal visit resonated with others as well. Theo Schamerhorn, a blond, 50-year-old woman wearing a University of Nebraska sweat shirt, was raised in the faith but had not been inside a Catholic church in 15 years. Yet she left her Washington home in the pre-dawn blackness to stake out a coveted spot along the parade route at Light and Pratt.
"I can't explain it," she said. "He generates such charisma, so much emotion."
Non-Catholics, too, found their attraction to the pope inexplicable. "I'm a former DJ, and I'm speechless," said Duke Wilson, a part-time drummer who got on a 3 a.m. train yesterday after finishing a gig in New York. Though an Episcopalian, he said he wanted to see the pope for what may be the pontiff's last trip to this country.
Even some of those unwilling to embrace the pope's particular faith or message found themselves drawn downtown. "I don't agree with all his positions, but I think he says what he believes and stays true to that," said Jane Thompson, a Lutheran from East Baltimore.
Ms. Thompson said she was lured downtown by curiosity and the parade after the stadium Mass. Many came to witness an event never before seen in this city. "I can get a front row seat for history," said Janae Wingfield, a 34-year old crime lab technician with the Maryland State Police, as she sat waiting with her two young sons and her mother, Gloria Gilchrist.
Mrs. Gilchrist had other reasons for being on Pratt Street at sunrise with a video camera at the ready. A nurse, she was there as the eyes and ears of a patient with multiple sclerosis. "I'm specifically here on a mission for one of my patients who couldn't be here," she said. "If this will give him a lift, I am willing to do it."
Mass for the faithful
If the later parade swelled the crowd with the casual and curious, then the papal Mass belonged largely to the Catholic faithful -- those who had the chance for Holy Communion with the pope at Oriole Park, or those others who contented themselves with the televised broadcast.
"This has been such a spiritual year for us," said Gino DeSimone, a Richmond parishioner who won his church's lottery of stadium tickets. "To come here and be at this Mass -- it just has so much significance for us."
In his arms, Mr. DeSimone held 10-week-old Alex, only recently baptized. His wife, Robin DeSimone, converted from Judaism earlier this year. "For me, this is a very, very big thing," she said. "I'm in awe."
Bid for tickets
Just outside the stadium, Michelle McAndrews, 20, of Springfield, Va., held aloft a hand-lettered sign that declared: "Need 1 ticket so badly. Please." The sign was given to her by another desperate soul who earlier used it to glean a precious ticket.
"So she gave me her sign," said Ms. McAndrews, with a laugh. "She said it was lucky."
Moments later, Jo Kolakowski of Kingsville walked wordlessly to Ms. McAndrews and presented her with an extra ticket. "It felt good to do that," Ms. Kolakowski said later.
But many of those who were excluded from the stadium Mass nonetheless felt a connection that came with the broadcast in the harbor. Many sang along with hymns, or gave muted applause when the pontiff quoted Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and urged America to remain "open to moral truth and moral reasoning. The Biblical wisdom which played so great a part in the founding of America should not be excluded from public moral debate."
When those in the stadium were asked to offer the sign of peace to those around them, men and women on Light and Pratt, as well as those in McKeldin Square, responded by turning to each other, grasping hands and offering the traditional greeting.
"Peace be with you."
Such solemnity and brotherhood, though visible throughout Celebration Square, was not uniform; nor did it extend much above street-level in the harbor. Those enjoying the usual Sunday brunch at the Hyatt Hotel, for example, could watch the Mass on several televisions, but the volume was so low the pope could not compete with a jazz lounge act in the restaurant.
At the Stouffer Harborplace, dozens of engineers and scientists had convened for a seminar on polymer plastics. The group had planned its meeting well in advance of the papal visit.
"If Pope John Paul knew how long we'd planned this, he'd want us to go ahead with the meeting," said James M. O'Reilly, a Kodak engineer and practicing Catholic.
Vendors and hawkers sold everything from T-shirts to buttons to papal tattoos, occasionally intruding on the harbor gathering and distracting from the papal Mass. A smattering of demonstrators was in town as well, including two animal rights activists, one of whom wore a nun's habit; the other, a cow costume.
As the parade began, trumpeters were out on Light Street to herald the pope's approach. On Charles Street, farther along the parade route, there was another sort of harbinger of the papal arrival. Not more than a minute before the popemobile appeared, a man rushed ahead yelling, "Cameras. $10. Get a lifetime of memories."
As a sales pitch, it was accurate enough even for those who caught a mere glimpse as the parade entourage swept past.
"He could have proceeded a little more slowly, but it was worth it," said Elizabeth Dumont, 30, of Baltimore. "He's the holiest man alive."
Enrique Arguello, 22, a Guatemalan attending college in upstate New York, also was thrilled with his quick look at the the pope -- the second in his lifetime; the first was as a youngster in Guatemala City.
"I had to see him again; it was reinforcement for my religion," he said. "You had this stab in your heart, and tears came to your eyes. I saw him do the blessing. I like to think it was for me, especially for me."
It was, perhaps, this pope's remarkable gift -- this great ability to visit one city after the next, moving from crowd to crowd, yet all the while connecting with individuals in the briefest of moments.
"He definitely saw us," said Anne Trymbiski, 51, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who stood at Charles and Saratoga streets and held up a cardboard placard with a recent family wedding photo showing 43 members of the Trymbiski clan. "STOP," declared the poster. "Papa, please bless us."
Her daughter, 15-year-old Mary Trymbiski, knows that after glimpsing their placard, Pope John Paul raised his hand and made a quick sign of the cross.
"He cares about people," said Mary. "He's reaching out to people wherever he goes."