For Crowd, Miraculous Moments

More than 46,000 people attended Pope Benedict's papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on April 17. Benedict is on his first papal visit to the United States this week.
By Michael E. Ruane, Hamil R. Harris and David Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 18, 2008

The crowd that mobbed Nationals Park to see, or just be near, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday was a joyous, kaleidoscopic tableau of Catholics and non-Catholics from across the country who said they were drawn by faith, hope and a sense of the history of the moment.

"It's a once-in-life experience," said Kevin Schoonmaker of Moline, Ill., who made the trip to Washington with his wife and five children even though they had only two tickets for the Mass. "The grace of being around such an event is well worth it." His wife, Maggie, and daughter Lexi, 13, used the tickets.

Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson was there, bearing palm fronds. "Often times, we get wrapped up in the things that we do," he said, "and it is just great to be out here with other believers."

There were men in suits and women in fancy Sunday hats. But there were also people wearing fleeces and baseball caps and Catholic-school students in plaid skirts and embroidered polos.

There were priests in cassocks of black or habits of brown and white, and nuns in blue and in white.

Luis Henriquez, 37, of Columbia Heights, who came with his daughter, Jennifer, 9, wore a tie with a gold cross imprinted in it. "We want to see the pope," he said. "As Catholics, we believe he's the voice of Christ."

Andrea Diaz, 10, of Gaithersburg wore a pope hat made from gold ribbon, poster board and purple felt. "It took me about an hour and a half" to make it, Andrea said. With the pointed hat sticking up a good 10 inches off her head, she was a child pope with braces.

"It's the first time that I've ever seen the pope," she said, "and it's, like, so close up."

The Rev. E. Gail Anderson Holness, an African Methodist Episcopal minister who is president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, had a front-row seat. The pope, she said, transcends denomination.

Sister Lawrence Marie Callahan, 70, a nun for 50 years, was there in her blue habit and blue Crocs. A nurse practitioner at Providence Hospital, she works with HIV-positive patients. "We're here to celebrate the Holy Father's being with us, his mission of love and acceptance of all people. . . . We're very grateful, and very proud of our city," she said.

Nearby, a girl carried a small crucifix aloft. Many people carried -- and at least one person wore -- the yellow and white flag of the papacy.

Outside the Navy Yard Metro stop, a man stood with head bowed while a priest blessed him.

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