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The Faithful Join the Curious at Pope Benedict's Mass in Washington

Mauricio Sharp / Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson
Mauricio Sharp with his commemorative flags.
(Hear from Sharp.) (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)

Special Report Main Page:

The Pope in Washington

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By Tamra Tomlinson
Maryland Newsline
Friday, April 18, 2008

WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass at Nationals Park drew more than 46,000 ticket holders -- along with enthusiastic souvenir vendors and curious onlookers.

The crowds making their way early Thursday to Navy Yard Station, a half block from the ballpark, pushed Metrorail’s ridership for the day to 828,418 -- the third highest one-day total in its history, the transit authority reported.

“Today’s been a wonderful day,” said Mauricio Sharp, 20, a souvenir vendor from Summerville, S.C. He arrived at Nationals Park at 5 a.m. to sell commemorative flags.

He’s worked Super Bowl games and the Indianapolis 500, but called Thursday’s Mass “by far the best event I’ve ever worked.”

Rolando Rolle, 41, a student in information systems, was in town from Los Angeles, apartment-hunting for his upcoming move to Washington.

Unlike others who had planned weeks or months in advance to come, Rolle’s decision to attend was spontaneous.

 He stood outside the stadium with others who didn’t have tickets, watching the Mass on a large electronic monitor.

“I basically just saw it on the news last night. … I thought I would just come out, see what it’s all about. I’m just here to observe.”

He added, “There’s some element of spirituality and truth to the religion, even though it has its flaws, like most religions.”

Schneider family / Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson
Hap Schneider with wife Trish and their sons Drew, 15, and Trey, 16. (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)

Hap Schneider, 45,  came from Bowie, Md., with his wife, Trish Schneider, 45, and their sons Trey, 16, and Drew 15.  

They didn’t have tickets to get in to the Mass, but wanted to be a part of the historic day.

Looking around at the modest crowd of about 200 who watched the Mass on the monitor just beside the Half Street entrance to Nationals Park, Schneider said: “I thought there’d be more people out here.” He remembered huge crowds on the National Mall during Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Washington.

But others weren’t disappointed.

Thursday’s blue sky and warm weather contributed to what Father Steve Wilbricht called a  “glorious, heavenly sort of day.

“All in all, I just thought this was a 100 percent great event,” said Wilbricht, 39, a graduate student at Catholic University. He attended the Mass with Father Terry Ehrman, 39, who is also a graduate a student at the university, and Father Neil Wack, 37, of South Bend, Ind.

(Hear more from Wilbricht.)

 Daria Lowe and Mary Perlmutter/ Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson
Daria Lowe and Mary Perlmutter outside the ballpark. (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)

Daria Lowe, 60, of Richmond, Va., agreed with their sentiments.

“I thought [the pope's] homily was wonderful, “ said Lowe, who made the trip with Mary Perlmutter, 60.

“He addressed the [accusations of ] sexual abuse in a beautiful, charitable, loving way, just like a loving father,” Lowe said.

Despite some heated exchanges between megaphone-toting protesters and people in the crowd exiting the stadium, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department reported no injuries and no arrests at the event.

"Everything at Nationals Park yesterday for the Pope's visit went very smoothly,” said police spokesman Josh Aldiva.


Copyright 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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