- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

They didn’t have tickets, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people yesterday from flocking to Nationals Park in Southeast just for the chance to be near the pope as he celebrated Mass.

Mary Febus, 53, came with a group of 20 from her church in Orlando and seemed satisfied to watch the Mass on an oversized television screen set up outside the stadium gate.

“The bottom line for all of us is he’s our representative,” she said “He’s the faith and hope for all of our church. This is history.”

Lourdes Roque, 52, of Rockville, took the Metro to the stadium at about 8 a.m. with her niece in hopes of finding two tickets outside the stadium. About an hour and a half later, she was resigned to watching the Mass on the big screen.

“Just hearing his voice we’re blessed,” she said.

Priyankara Fonseka, 37, and his wife, Ashani, were more fortunate.

“We came with no tickets,” he said proudly as his wife displayed two tickets the Falls Church couple were given as they stood at the intersection of M and First streets in Southeast.

The crowd of 46,000 who did have tickets started arriving as early as 5 a.m. and moved smoothly through security.

At 9:30 a.m., when the chorus inside the park began singing, the crowd outside participated. But the scene was disrupted by small groups of protesters who aired their disagreements with church doctrine by waving signs and preaching into amplifiers.

Several heated confrontations drew the presence of Metropolitan Police officers, who told one protest group to stop using their amplifier during the service but later let others continue to preach.

Lt. Gary Durand said a “decision was made” by high-ranking police officials not to arrest anyone, although he said the protesters were violating city code by using an amplifier and interrupting a religious service.

“All we do is ask them to comply,” Lt. Durand said. “We asked, and all we can do is ask.”

Patrons attempting to listen to the pope at one point held a blue tarp in front of the protesters.

“I’m not here to see protesters,” said Carolyn Lancaster, 66, “I’m here to see the Holy Father.”

Ms. Lancaster drove to the stadium from her Southeast home just after 10 a.m.

“I was at home watching this on TV, and the desire to be closer was overwhelming,” she said.

After the Mass, crowds inside and outside of the stadium funneled into the Navy Yard Metro station, causing backups at both entrances that stretched for more than a block.

Many clutched souvenirs — including pope coffee mugs, pope key chains, pope dog tags and pope bumper stickers — that were sold from 20 vendor booths inside the stadium.

“It just shows the great love that people have for the Holy Father,” said Mark Nelson, the founder and chief executive officer of Catholic to the Max — the official merchandiser of the 2008 U.S. papal visit to the United States.

Bumper stickers sold for $3, magnets for $5. Coffee mugs and posters were $8. Ten dollars could buy a Benedict desk plaque, matted photograph or rosary beads, while papal crucifixes sold for $15. T-shirts and baseball hats sold for $20.

Thousands of people also went to Northeast in the afternoon for the chance to see the pope before he departs for New York this morning.

The grounds of the Catholic University of America and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center were closed to the public. But spectators still crowded along Michigan Avenue in Northeast to see the pope, who moved freely between the sites as students sang and cheered in celebration his visit.

Tina Hertz Evans, of St. Theresa’s Parish in Ashburn, Va., said she waited outside “just to wave at the pope.”

“I love that man,” said Mrs. Evans, 52. “He speaks faithfully and scholarly. He’s a gentleman.”

Gary Emerling, Arlo Wagner and Kristi Moore contributed to this report.

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