Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Papal Visit Update

The deadline for tickets to the Papal Events in New York in most dioceses was last Friday, but some tickets may still be available for the Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington DC. The Archdiocese of Washington reports that there are 45,000 tickets for the Mass but demand for the tickets is so high that two Popemobile rides through the streets of DC have been added to the papal schedule. The exact route will be finalized and released at a later date.

The Archdiocese of New York reports that there were over 180,000 requests for the 90,000 tickets which were available for the Mass at Yankee Stadium, the Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the meeting with youth at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. Approximately 58,000 tickets were granted for the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

I can't imagine having the responsibility of planning this event, but here is a little peek in at the man who is in charge.

Maybe the hardest part of Mark G. Ackermann's job is reading the letters that come in every day from people pleading for any chance to be close to their pope.

"They're heart-rending stories of people who have been through great tragedy and just want to be somewhere near the Holy Father," he said.

The problem is that there have been more than 180,000 requests for 90,000 total tickets for the six events that will take place in New York when Pope Benedict XVI visits from April 18-20.


Ackermann is executive director of the archdiocesan Office of the Papal Visit, a temp job that packs a decade's worth of responsibility.

Reporting directly to Cardinal Edward Egan, he is in charge of planning for every papal minute from when Benedict arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport from Washington on April 18 to when he lifts off on Shepherd One about 8 p.m. April 20, heading for Rome.

It is a unique job that covers everything from planning security with the Secret Service and a litany of government agencies to preparing 550 priests and deacons to give Communion to 58,000 people at Yankee Stadium in 15 minutes.

"We've literally had walk-throughs at the stadium to figure out who is going to be where, how people are going to get out of their row - I was going to say pew - to receive Communion and get back to the same seat," he said in his office at the archdiocese's headquarters.


It's not surprising that Ackermann believes that Pope Benedict's stop at Ground Zero on the morning of April 20 promises to be the most poignant part of the papal visit.

"The Holy Father will actually go down and touch bedrock, spend a period of private prayer, bless the area and then visit with 24 individuals, some of whom lost loved ones in the attacks on our country," he said.

Ackermann leads a 50-person Papal Visit Task Force that is kicking into high gear for an eight-week stretch that promises to fly by.

He spends about 20 percent of his time on security issues, working with the Secret Service, other federal agencies that he won't identify, the New York City and Yonkers police departments, the papal security team and others.

"New York has been through a lot; this region has been through a lot," he said. "The level of preparedness - people have no idea - when a major event happens is overwhelming."

Then there are the protocol people from the White House, the State Department, the Vatican, city and state agencies.

Then there are the logistics. A database, growing by the day, will include the names of every person ticketed to every event. It's a requirement of the Secret Service.

For the pope's youth rally at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers on April 19, more than 20,000 youngsters from across the region will be bused to Yonkers Raceway. From there, they will be shuttled to the seminary, where Secret Service will be waiting to check bar-coded tickets.

"Nationally known entertainment" is being lined up for both the seminary and Yankee Stadium, Ackermann said.

More than 800 buses will descend on the stadium April 20, bringing representatives from all 195 dioceses in the United States. After hours of waiting, they'll see Benedict celebrate Mass from a stage above second base - assisted by more than 200 cardinals and bishops and some 800 priests.

And that's not all.

About 250 Christian leaders from across the country have to get to St. Joseph's Church in Manhattan on April 18 for an ecumenical prayer service.

A good 2,500 priests, deacons and nuns will fill St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 19, when Benedict becomes the first pope to celebrate Mass there.

Hundreds of volunteers are being enlisted (and checked out) for all the events.

Every step the pope will take - every left turn, every right turn - is choreographed in a big book that Ackermann keeps close at hand. But who's to say Benedict won't get out of line, like when John Paul II popped out of St. Patrick's in 1995 and walked down 50th Street?

"In this post-9/11 world, I'm not sure we'll see that kind of spontaneity, but not every step can be choreographed," Ackermann said.

Ackermann will be near the pope's side the whole time, of course, but he can't be more specific than that. Security reasons.

And when Benedict leaves and the Office of the Papal Visit evaporates? On April 22, Ackermann has to give a speech in Calgary about emergency preparedness for hospitals. He committed to it more than a year ago.

Then he will take a non-temp job with the archdiocese, which he prefers not to identify for now. He has more immediate concerns.

Like the 100,000 ponchos he'll need in case the pope brings rain.

I am exhausted just reading about it, and please no RAIN!

Update: The Archdiocese of New York has two more tickets which they are holding a drawing for. Anyone can enter. Click here for more info.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please if possible May the Pope please be arranged to come to The Republic of Uganda