With the Pope at Nationals Park

By John Murphy

Posted 4/17/08 at 8:00 PM


1:30 p.m.

I’m just back to St. Stephen Martyr from the Pope’s mass at Nationals Park. Without a ticket to get inside the stadium, I watched the mass on a giant TV screen set-up just outside the security gates. (My homemade sign reading “Prayers for a Ticket” didn’t land me any supernatural luck – just what I get for trying to use prayers as a bartering tool.)

It was an interesting scene: a teeming crowd huddled together beneath the screen, cheering when the popemobile made its appearance, waving to the pope when he waved, and praying along with the mass. If Christ loves outsiders, I hope he appreciated our contribution.

There were also members of the press milling about (only a certain number were given tickets). A flaxen-haired Fox News reporter made an unrecorded aside to her cameraman, “I just don’t get it. There’s just no one in my life like that. Someone I would travel to see to watch drive by at 20 miles an hour.”

I couldn’t tell if there was longing in her voice or condescension, but her observation wasn’t quite accurate. Those who travel to see the pope don’t just travel to see a guy in white robes whiz by in a souped-up Mercedes. The pope’s visit is an event, an encounter with the Vicar of Christ, and traveling to see him is nothing more or less than a show of solidarity with the pope and the communion of believers that comprises the Church. (But I still think his popemobile is pretty cool.)

That was basically the answer I gave to a news reporter who asked me what I wanted to get out of the experience (in other words, “why are you here when you can’t even get inside?”). In the heat of the sun and the glare of the camera lights, I doubt my answers were coherent, much less insightful, but I just mumbled my way through.

“What’s the atmosphere here like?” she asked. Joyous and festive, I said, glancing about. “Except for that guy,” she pointed out, nodding over her shoulder to a fire & brimstone preacher shouting variations of “The Pope is the Antichrist” into a megaphone. “Yeah, that’s pretty sad,” was about all I could think of to say, though I added that it was in poor taste to spoil people’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the pope. Oh well, I suppose there’s always someone who’d rather be the rain on the parade, than miss the parade altogether.

I’m headed back to New York this afternoon and hope you’ll join me as I continue to follow Pope Benedict’s apostolic journey, and pray with him, as he prayed in his homily today:

“That this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them, and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.”