Friday, January 11, 2008

A Hope-Fix for PopeTix

Three months from this coming Tuesday, B16 touches down for his six-day trek to the East Coast.

Information hasn't necessarily abounded about it and plans are still being "finalized," but for the willing who'd like to take part in what's looking to be the only US trip of Papa Ratzi's reign, it isn't too late to take a shot -- but, just so you know, the window is closing quickly.

Admittedly, it's kind of ironic that for all the Vatican critiques of the Dan Brown book, it didn't take long for a curiosity-spurred attempt to merely scope out info on how to nab the coveted goods to start feeling like a quest to crack the DaVinci Code.

To brief: the archdiocese of New York's page for ticket info says that all requests must be received by its designated office by Tuesday (15 January)... just without noting how to get those requests in... and as an archdiocese-sponsored phone number featured a voice message promising updated information "after January 1st" -- before hanging up. And the archdiocese of Washington -- where Benedict's lone public event will be the 17 April Mass for about 45,000 at Nationals Park -- "has not finalized" its distribution plans, merely noting its past policy of disseminating PopeTix through its parishes and unspecified neighboring dioceses.

But one thing is clear: between the octogenarian pontiff's need to conserve his energy, his preference for smaller gatherings, and the security imperatives of a post-9/11 world, the next papal swing through the densest concentration of the nation's 70 million Catholics will be vastly different from the last one.

In the fall of 1995, John Paul II's five-day journey to New Jersey, New York, Brooklyn and Baltimore included four public liturgies for a combined 325,000 faithful. This time, however, the DC Mass and New York's climactic Sunday Eucharist at Yankee Stadium will, when taken together, be able to accommodate about a third of that, with officials well aware that demand for seats will far outstrip their supply.

Aside from its spate of small events for specific groups, New York will also host a "meeting with youth" on the 19 April anniversary of Benedict's election as Pope and a morning Mass earlier that day for priests and religious in St Patrick's Cathedral. While the grounds of St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, are expected to fit 20,000 for the encounter, priority is being given to the 5,000 major seminarians from the nation's dioceses and religious orders, all of whom have been invited. The prized invites for the St Pat's Mass will be almost entirely dominated by Gotham clergy and religious, with the 2,500 or so attendees lucky if they can find a bit of breathing room. And those with fond recollections of Papa Wojtyla's free-wheeling "walkabouts" to press the public flesh on entering and leaving ticketed events shouldn't expect an encore in this most prompt of pontificates.

OK... with the bad news aired, now for the good.

Having gotten requests from as far away as Hawaii -- and dazed from the maze of websites and phone numbers -- I turned to the most reliable oracle going: Joe Zwilling, a papal visit vet now prepping for his second PopeTrip as director of communications in New York.

While New Yorkers and Washingtonians will, through their parishes, have the easiest shot at getting spots at the ballpark liturgies, hope isn't lost for those further afield. That's not to say "you're in," but PopeWatching opportunities for out-of-towners do exist, although your chances of success depend mightily on where you're at and how your diocese decides to hand out the allotment it gets.

Bottom line: if you haven't already, contact your chancery.

Outside of the 413 parishes of the 2.1 million-member Big Apple church, the most "prominent" blocks of Yankee Stadium tickets will go to the dioceses observing bicentennials in 2008 -- Baltimore, Boston, Louisville and Philadelphia -- to distribute at their discretion; the closing Mass will observe the anniversaries in a particular way. (Three-fourths of the bicentennial dioceses have posted no ticket information whatsoever, and the one that has -- right here in Pharaohville -- has set its application deadline for this Monday, the 14th.)

After those, an unconfirmed number of seats will be heading to the suffragan sees of the province of New York -- the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse -- and the neighboring archdiocese of Newark and diocese of Bridgeport. Distribution policies will vary; again, contact your chancery.

Whatever's left of the approximately 65,000 tickets for the Sunday afternoon Mass are up for grabs -- "dioceses around the country will be able to have tickets," Zwilling said, but with a warning that there'll only be "a small number for each."

Again, contact your chancery... and good luck.

For the Masses themselves, ticketholders will be required to show government-issued photo ID, or school ID in the case of students. As tickets will be each bear the name of their holder, they're non-transferable. Attendees will be searched and are to be in their seats two hours before the Masses begin.

And for those unable to make it, no worries -- you're far from out of luck.

As never before, the first Stateside papal visit of the internet age will be easier to take part in from wherever you might be. TV and web-streaming coverage will abound, Benedict's messages -- currently in drafting stages -- will be quickly disseminated, and you'll probably get a better glimpse of the Pilgrim than even most of his entourage with security clearance (and all without the logistical chaos). And, yes, Whispers will be on the ground, filing at the usual breakneck pace.

For all the rest, stay tuned.