Security Concerns to Limit Public Part of Upcoming Papal Visit to DC

On Oct. 6, 1979, Pope John Paul II emerged from a car's sunroof, waving and smiling to thousands of cheering onlookers who lined Washington streets and even climbed trees for a glimpse of the Roman Catholic leader.

Things will be different when Pope Benedict XVI arrives next month.

The public will have fewer opportunities to see Benedict because of security concerns and a tighter schedule. Benedict has just one public event in the nation's capital — a Mass at the Nationals stadium on April 17 — and will travel through the city in a closed car or in the popemobile, a specially designed and secure vehicle used by the pontiff during public appearances.

"His visit reflects the times we live in," said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. "There has to be a little higher level of security, unfortunately."

Benedict's lower profile also will be due to the fact that he is a quieter man than John Paul, and at 80 is more than two decades older than his predecessor was when he came to town — the last visit by a pope to Washington.

Still, many are joining the long list of people clamoring for tickets to the 10 a.m. Mass at the stadium, which seats about 46,000.

Monsignor Ronald Jameson, rector of St. Matthew's Cathedral in northwest Washington and liturgy director for the Washington archdiocese during John Paul's visit, said the demand for tickets is a major difference between Benedict's upcoming visit and John Paul's D.C. trip, which included a Mass on the National Mall that was generally open to the public and drew some 175,000 people.

He recalled that sunny afternoon in October 1979, when John Paul greeted crowds outside St. Matthew's. Faces lit up, and people cheered spontaneously. "There was such an excitement, like there was this star that was coming to D.C.," Jameson said.

Jameson said that many people, like himself, would like to have the same sort of opportunity to see Benedict as they did with his predecessor. But security concerns raised by the assassination attempts on both John Paul and President Ronald Reagan, along with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, have changed that.

Earlier this month, Osama bin Laden accused Benedict of playing a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam.

Organizers of Benedict's Mass in Washington are going out of their way to ensure that only legitimate attendees will enter the stadium. The tickets are nontransferable and each is bar-coded to a specific seat, Gibbs said. That way, if the archdiocese learns of a ticket being scalped on the Internet, the ticket can be canceled. To enter the stadium, adults will have to show a government-issued ID and pass through metal detectors.

While tickets are scarce, people have hardly stopped seeking them out: A waitlist posted quietly on the archdiocese's Web site attracted nearly 500 individual requests for tickets in the first week, and workers are still fielding pleas by phone and e-mail from as far away as Australia, Gibbs said.

"We just don't have the tickets. We're oversubscribed," Gibbs said.

The pope is scheduled to be in Washington from April 15 to April 17. He next heads to New York, where he is scheduled to address the United Nations, visit Ground Zero and celebrate a Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20 before leaving for Rome later that day.

In New York, the public's access to the pope is also expected to be limited. According to the Archdiocese of New York, there have been more than 200,000 requests for the 57,000 or so seats for the Mass.

"The demand, of course, greatly exceeds the availability of tickets," said Sean Dolan, spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York. "I think a lot of people are going to have to see it on TV."

The level of security for Benedict's visit is expected to be high in both New York and Washington.

"We would do for the pope pretty much what we do for the president," said Howard Safir, New York City's police commissioner from 1996 to 2000.

Preliminary plans call for Benedict to be in the popemobile at Yankee Stadium, for a return trip from St. Patrick's Cathedral to the papal embassy on 72nd Street on April 19 and for a rally at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers that day.

Kelly Gannon, a Sioux Indian who lives on a reservation in Warwick, North Dakota — population 80 — is one of the lucky ones who will get to see the pope. She said she never thought her request for 16 tickets to the Washington Mass would be granted. The tickets are for her parish's youth group, which includes her two children. They raised money for the trip through bake sales, spaghetti dinners and other fundraisers.

"Everybody is so pumped," she said. "The kids have raised everything themselves, one dollar at a time, and it's been a hard dollar at times."