National Catholic Register


Washington Awaits Benedict

Preparing for the Pope



March 16-22, 2008 Issue | Posted 3/11/08 at 12:52 PM


WASHINGTON — Since Thanksgiving, Msgr. Charles Antonicelli, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, has been participating in weekly Tuesday afternoon meetings as part of the Washington papal visit leadership team.

But he’s not complaining.

“It’s wonderful,” said Msgr. Antonicelli, who serves as the liaison to other dioceses for the papal visit. “The committee is made up of heads of all the departments in the archdiocese. Everyone is watching out for their own constituency.”

All ticket requests outside of the archdiocese are being funneled through his office. Msgr. Antonicelli also serves as the point of contact for priests from other dioceses who plan to concelebrate with the Pope at the Mass in Washington.

More than 800 priests from outside the archdiocese, and 300 from within, plan to attend, as do 115 deacons from elsewhere. and an additional 90 from within the archdiocese.

There is an expectation that the deacons will be helping with Communion distribution during the Mass.

“Because of security concerns, those distributing Communion cannot come down to the altar, but will be giving Communion to those in the stands within their section,” explained Msgr. Antonicelli.

Liturgical Preparations

The planning poses major liturgical logistical questions. During the six-day visit, eight liturgical events will be held throughout Washington, D.C. and New York. Msgr. Anthony Sherman, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for the Liturgy, has been overseeing these events in cooperation with the Pope’s master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, and Father Mark Knestout, director of worship, who is serving as the master of ceremonies for the Washington Mass.

In late February, Msgr. Marini made a visit to all of the sites where prayer services and Masses will be held.

Msgr. Sherman said that the major challenge is coordinating everyone participating in the public Masses being held in massive places, such as Nationals Park and Yankee Stadium.

From the ballpark’s perspective, there are additional challenges, as well.

“Something like this is 85% different than preparing for a ball game,” said Heather Westrom, director of ballpark enterprises with Nationals Park. “It’s going to be an amazing thing.”

Westrom cited the placement of a stage in center field, the building of media platforms, creatively coming up with additional parking space for the hundreds of satellite broadcast trucks that will be on-site, and the installation of metal detectors at every park entrance, as some of the challenges they face.

The new stadium is scheduled to be completed March 28. The stadium will open at 5:30 a.m. the morning of the Mass and remain open until 2 p.m. Mass is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and conclude around noon.

Tom Stehle, pastoral associate for liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Md., has been working since Nov. 17 on selecting the music and putting together the choirs for the papal Mass in Washington. The Mass will feature four choirs — a 250-voice auditioned choir, a 175-voice children’s choir, an 85-voice Gospel choir, and a 75-voice intercultural choir.

“This will be the Washington Church at prayer with the Holy Father,” said Stehle. “More than an entertainment spectacle or musical event, it’s fundamentally about the Mass — the most common, usual, regular, unifying and profound thing that we do.”

Bishops and Educators

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is hosting an evening prayer service with the Pope and the nation’s bishops on April 16. That meeting will not take place upstairs in the church but rather below in the crypt church of the shrine.

“The Holy Father was clear that he wanted to meet with the bishops,” said Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the shrine. “They wanted a more intimate setting for the encounter between the bishops and the Holy Father.”

Msgr. Rossi said that the event requires extraordinary coordination between shrine personnel, the U.S. bishops’ conference, government officials, the papal trip planner and Rome.

“Quite honestly, it hasn’t been a challenge,” said Msgr. Rossi. “It’s been an exciting adventure. Of course, there are restrictions and you work with them, but how often does one get to work on a papal visit?”

Next door, The Catholic University of America will be providing boxed breakfasts and lunches for students in their residence halls since campus food service will be shut down for the Pope’s speech on campus.

At the request of the Pope, Catholic University invited all of the country’s Catholic college and university presidents, and a diocesan education leader from each diocese, to hear Benedict’s speech at Catholic University.

Among those who were invited and plan to attend is Tom Dillon, president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

“I expect that the Pope will be conciliatory yet instructive, lauding Catholic higher education in this country for its historical achievement but reminding its leaders of the importance of the Catholic university’s ordination, finally, to the truth of Christ,” said Dillon. “I would not be surprised if he took up again some of the themes in his Regensburg address and in his undelivered but published address to La Sapienza Universita di Roma: for example, the birth of the university from within the Church; the nature and mission of the Catholic university; the futility of relativism and skepticism; the complementarity of faith and reason (and the importance of each) in our search for wisdom.”

Amid all of the challenges and planning, however, there’s tremendous anticipation.

“There is incredible excitement,” said Msgr. Antonicelli. “People are waiting and hoping that if they don’t get a chance to go to the Mass there will be other opportunities to be able to see him.”

Tim Drake writes daily about the Pope’s visit at