National Catholic Register


New York Is Ready for the Pope

From the Nation’s Capital To the ‘Capital of the World’



March 30-April 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 3/25/08 at 2:18 PM


NEW YORK — Four days after Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in the nation’s capital, he’ll be headed to what many people regard as the world’s capital: New York.

His three days in the Big Apple will be filled with activities that begin with his address to the United Nations and end with a Mass at Yankee Stadium and his return to the Vatican from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

While preparations are extensive, there are aspects of the trip that will be simpler than the last papal trip to New York in 1995, when Pope John Paul II graced the city with his presence.

For those organizing the events, preparations have been under way since last November. Many of those involved have been through a papal visit before.

“I never thought I’d be working on another papal Mass,” said Msgr. Leslie Ivers, pastor at St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx and site coordinator for the Mass at Yankee Stadium. He knows a thing or two about planning for a papal Mass. He coordinated Pope John Paul II’s Mass in Central Park in 1995.

In many ways, said Msgr. Ivers, this year’s Mass will be less challenging.

“At Yankee Stadium, you can’t have as many people,” said Msgr. Ivers. “Logistically, setting it up is much, much easier.”

In Central Park, he described how Mass was essentially held in a big empty field.

“You had to build a stage. There was no water, no sanitary facilities, no buildings for vesting,” recalled Msgr. Ivers. “That all had to be brought on site.”

By comparison, Yankee Stadium is equipped with all of those things, including access to lighting and cables for video and sound.

That’s not to say the event will be without its challenges. Foremost on Msgr. Ivers’ mind is how to distribute the Eucharist to 56,000 people in the allotted time. The Holy See has requested that distribution take no longer than 15 minutes.

“We’ll be using about 550 priests to help distribute Communion,” said Msgr. Ivers. The priests will be stationed at various positions throughout the stadium’s three levels. “There will be an average of about 100 communicants to every priest, so that we can do it within a reasonable amount of time.”

According to Msgr. Ivers, Msgr. Guido Marini, the Vatican’s master of papal ceremonies, visited the site in February and seemed pleased with the planning so far. One question that was addressed by the Vatican was the placement of priests on the lower level during Communion. Whereas priests in the upper two levels will have hosts that will likely be consecrated during a Mass at the stadium earlier in the day, the priests on the field level will approach the altar with their ciboria filled with hosts prior to the Eucharistic Prayer. After the consecration, the priests will descend their ramps and go to their assigned positions for Communion distribution.

Jennifer Pascual is also no stranger to papal Masses. She sang as a soprano in the New York Archdiocesan Festival Chorale during Pope John Paul II’s Mass in Central Park.

This time, as director of music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, her job is a bit more daunting. She’s overseeing all of the music for the liturgical events during Pope Benedict’s visit.

“The music is the easiest part,” said Pascual. “The most difficult is securing all of the copyrights, broadcast licenses and synchronization performance licenses, so that if the Mass is recorded, clips can be rebroadcast at a later time. All of this costs money.”

She has assembled a blend of eclectic styles of music, including Gregorian chant, Renaissance music from composers such as Bach, Mozart, Rheinberger and Perosi, traditional hymns and some original compositions.

The Yankee Stadium Mass music will be led by a 200-voice choir and 58-piece orchestra located behind home plate.

Prior to the Mass, there will be a “Concert of Hope,” featuring entertainers such as Harry Connick Jr., Dana and José Feliciano. That event is being produced by Stig Edgren, president of SEG Events.

Edgren is also producing the events at St. Joseph’s Seminary, just north of the city in Yonkers, N.Y., and at Ground Zero, and the Yankee Stadium Mass. This will be Edgren’s fourth papal Mass. He also produced Pope John Paul II’s Masses at Central Park, Dodger Stadium and Los Angeles Coliseum in 1987.

He said the major challenge facing the production team is the amount of time they have to build for the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

“Because of the baseball schedule, we aren’t allowed to get into the stadium until 48 hours before we need to be ready,” said Edgren. That seems like a short amount of time, but it’s more than twice what he was allowed before the papal Mass at Dodger Stadium, which was 20 hours.

“Because it’s the start of their season, we can’t touch the grass,” said Edgren. “We’ll have nothing in the outfield. The design of our stage covers the infield with banners, but none of it covers the grass.”

Of all the events taking place in New York, perhaps one of the most significant will be the Holy Father’s visit to Ground Zero, where thousands of people died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Eileen Mulcahy is the site coordinator for that event.

“It was a request of his,” said Mulcahy, who works at the Archdiocese of New York. “He wanted it to be a very dignified, solemn event.”

Mulcahy described the event for the Register.

The Pope will be brought down the ramp into “the pit” by motorcade. Cardinal Egan will accompany him. A prie-dieu (kneeler) will be set up.

There, the Pope will kneel in silent prayer. Afterwards, he will light a Paschal candle and use an aspergillum to bless the bedrock. A microphone will be set up for the blessing.

Then, he will greet 24 invited guests made up of survivors, family members, first responders and a representative from the Pentagon, which was also attacked that day, and Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth terrorist-commandeered jet was forced to crash. The governors of New York and New Jersey and the mayor of New York City will also be present.

“At the other venues it’s a celebration; there will be entertainment,” explained Mulcahy. “This will be very special. Aside from the blessing, everything else will be private. We want to make sure that this is as he wants it to be.” The only music will be a cellist playing prior to the Pope’s arrival and bagpipes playing during his departure.

Because the area is an active construction site, it will be impossible for visitors to actually watch the event. It’s also unknown what access media will have.

Media Madness

Not only does the Archdiocese of New York expect tens of thousands of visitors from surrounding states and 120 dioceses, but the media will also be descending in droves.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, more than 5,000 media outlets have applied for credentials to cover the visit.

EWTN announced last week that it will be offering full coverage of the papal visit, from the Pope’s arrival to his departure, in addition to commentary by First Things’ editor Father Richard John Neuhaus, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, and Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

Also, “The World Over” news anchorman Raymond Arroyo has an exclusive interview with President Bush that will air the week before the Pope’s visit, on April 11.

Another media organization that will provide extensive coverage will be New York’s own The Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. Not only does the station plan to provide 24-hour coverage during the papal visit, but it’s also adding two additional channels to its lineup.

One will repeat content for those who may have missed it originally; the second will include archived audio from previous papal visits to New York, including John Paul II’s 1995 visit and Pope Paul VI’s 1965 visit.

“This is certainly extraordinary,” said Rob Astorino, program director for The Catholic Channel. “Things like this can put a station on the map. People not familiar with The Catholic Channel will learn that we will be the source for all things papal.

“Television and radio networks will cover this as a news item. We’re covering it as the leader of our Church. It’s certainly a different point of view.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.

New York Numbers

Security concerns mean careful arrangements had to be made to allow the Pope to interact with as many New Yorkers as possible.

4/19 • A group will be on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to welcome him.

• 50 young people with disabilities at St. Joseph’s Seminary will meet him.

• Seminarians will welcome him.

• 26,000 young people will line the pope-mobile route.

4/20 • 58,000 people are expected to attend Mass at Yankee Stadium.

• 24 people representing families affected by 9/11 terrorist attacks will greet the Pope at Ground Zero.

• 3,000 people will see Pope Benedict off at the farewell ceremony held at JFK International Airport.