Three months from today, Pope Benedict XVI’s Alitalia flight will touch down at Andrews Air Force Base to begin what may be his only papal visit to the United States.
The octogenarian will pay his respects to President Bush and the United Nations, conduct two stadium Masses and two ecumenical events, visit ground zero in Manhattan, meet with bishops, seminarians and religious orders, observe the third anniversary of his election to the pontificate, and celebrate his 81st birthday.
Neither the Washington nor the New York archdiocese is saying how much the visit will cost them, but the Masses alone are expected to cost at least $1 million each, factoring in stadium leases, security, the construction of an altar and backdrop, liability insurance, press accommodations, TV scaffolds and janitorial service.
“The pope is coming and we’re having a great reception for him in New York,” said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese.
“The question of cost hasn’t even entered in,” he said, though he did add that fundraisers have been discussed.
Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit cost the District and the Washington archdiocese $1.9 million, of which the archdiocese paid $400,000; today’s higher costs alone would at least double that. Archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said no fundraisers are scheduled but that Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl is seeking help from major contributors.
A papal visit “was not in the budget,” she said.
John Paul II celebrated a freewheeling outdoor Mass on the Mall attended by 175,000 people. Now, D.C. officials in a vastly more security-conscious nation have slated a Mass for 45,000 in the new Nationals stadium.
Compared with John Paul’s 1979 and 1987 multicity visits in which millions of people were able to attend vast open-air Masses on empty lots, racetracks and the Mall, Benedict’s only public events will be at the Nationals park and the 65,000-seat Yankee Stadium.
“How do you make a baseball stadium look like a church in 24 hours?” said Miss Gibbs. Church officials are trying to figure out those logistics plus a design for the altar, papal chair, pulpit and backdrop cloth.
“Visually, we’d like it to be classical in tone to match the District’s architecture,” she said. “We’re trying to keep this simple — a simple stage that’s beautiful.”
After a night’s rest at the papal nunciature on Massachusetts Avenue, the pope will visit the White House on the morning of April 16, his birthday. In the afternoon, he will meet with American bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
On April 17, the pope will be at the Nationals stadium in the morning, then meet with Catholic university presidents and diocesan education directors at Catholic University. He then will attend an interfaith event at the John Paul II Cultural Center across the street.
The next morning, he flies to New York to address the United Nations, then attend an ecumenical event at St. Joseph’s Church in a former German enclave on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Sullivan, is relatively new in that post.
“Having the pope come visit was the last thing he expected when he accepted that position,” Mr. Zwilling said.