- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The lush green outfield of Nationals Park was slowing being transformed yesterday into a church sanctuary, as crews made final preparations for Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass later this week.

Crews are putting the sanctuary in center field and will add 5,000 temporary seats to the outfield, increasing the capacity at the new baseball stadium to roughly 47,000 seats.

The Mass is scheduled to begin Thursday at 10 a.m., and the stadium gates will open at 5:30 a.m.

“We will be able to give Communion to 46,000 to 48,000 people in 20 minutes,” said Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl.

Archdiocese officials said they began preparing for the pope’s visit six months ago, before the park was even ready for a baseball game.

The crews got an early start yesterday, at 5:30 a.m., just hours after the Washington National concluded a home game late Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves.

Among their chores were to lay plastic sheets over the grass and lay flooring for the sanctuary, which will include a 14-foot Crucifixion cross.

Most of those attending the Mass will be in five decks of seats rising behind home plate, first and third bases.

The pope will be accompanied to the stadium by Archbishop Wuerl, who said 260 bishops and every cardinal in the country will attend the event.

“We will have one of the largest gatherings” of church leaders, the archbishop said. “Everything is splendid.”

Archbishop Wuerl also said he did not know what prayerful message the pope will deliver.

“What everyone is going to find is that Pope Benedict is a very warm person,” he said. “It is the first time they will be able to see him up close personally, a spiritual person. He will touch on the issues, and encourage us to use our faith. …All of his message will be to trust one another as we want to be trusted ourselves.”

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