MIAMI -- With as much noisy urgency as they habitually greet the seasonal hurricanes of September, South Floridians are bracing for Pope John Paul II, who inaugurates his nine-city tour of the United States here tomorrow. His 23 1/2-hour stay -- which includes a few minutes with President Reagan -- is costing, conservatively, $5.5 million, or nearly $4,000 per minute.
Breathless at the papal prospect are thousands of devout Catholics, plus swarms of vendors planning to peddle everything from religious pendants to the "Let Us Spray" lawn sprinkler, a statue of the pope that spews water from the pontiff's outstretched hands. However, the buildup leading to this visit has been characterized by snarling disharmony. The papal visit has managed at various times to polarize Jews, atheists, pro-abortion women and Catholic feminists, gays, ACLU lawyers, some school board members and legislators, even those Catholics who think the money for this nine-city tour might better be spent on the poor.
In the waning days before the papal visit, Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, an affable advance man if there ever was one, toured the state like a rock promoter, drumming up business for Friday's papal mass, which is expected to draw a half million people.
Others in and around Miami plan to batten down the hatches.
There is hardly a choice, as residents find themselves ensnared in a staggering number of pope-triggered Catch-22s. For openers, parts of I-95 and Biscayne Boulevard will be sealed off, which is akin here to closing the Capital Beltway around Washington. Since few will be able to get anywhere -- particularly at the campus of Florida International University, where the daytime mass will be held -- it stands to reason that Friday is a holiday, right?
Wrong. The university's board of regents is giving FIU employes -- who couldn't park within miles of the campus even if they staggered in -- the option of making up the time, taking a day of vacation or working at another campus site.
Many bank, store and postal employes don't get the day off, either, but criminals do. All trials -- felony, juvenile, traffic, misdemeanor -- will be canceled all week. Why? Because no police are available. Every able-bodied officer is going on the pope watch -- the biggest security and crowd-control project in the history of South Florida, at a cost of $3 million to $4 million.
Papal Protection By land, sea and air, the pope and the president will be protected by more than 5,000 Miami police, National Guard troops, state police, Secret Service agents and the Vatican's own Swiss Guard. There will be high-powered rifles, bomb-sniffing dogs, 9-mm semiautomatics and pistol-handled grenade launchers on hand for the visit of the Pilgrim of Peace. Sharpshooters will man the rooftops, and manholes will be searched for bombs and then welded shut. Mailboxes that could house bombs will be removed from Biscayne Boulevard. Like characters in some James Bond movie, scuba divers will search for bombs along the sea walls of Vizcaya -- the rococo turn-of-the-century pleasure-palace-turned-museum where the president and the pope will meet. Airspace over every papal visit site has been ordered closed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Florida has one of the most lenient gun laws in the nation and more than its share of crackpots. Secret Service intelligence files have been combed for information on South Florida terrorists, militants and crazies. Security apparently will spare the bulletproof Popemobile, which looks like a white pickup truck enclosed in glass, of one Biscayne Boulevard stoplight ritual: men armed with rags and Windex dodging through traffic like bullfighters to madly polish a stopped car's windshield in hopes of spare change.
Cross of Controversy One recent afternoon at the mass site at Florida International University, Fr. Gabriel O'Reilley, wearing his cross and a pith helmet and driving a golf cart, surveyed construction workers building the altar. Not yet up at the time was the outdoor cross -- the 100-foot religious symbol that caused such a furor when the archdiocese proposed to erect it on state property. Not only erect it, but light it, and for 30 nights before the pope arrived.
The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue. Its first compromise was for the vertical pole to be set in place during construction and the crossbar attached at the last minute. The archdiocese talked the ACLU into permitting the entire cross to be built as long as it was shrouded until the mass. It is now in place and draped. Fr. O'Reilley, who has a heavy Irish brogue, seemed mystified at the fuss. "'Twas the first time I ever heard of the ACLU. Thought it was some extension of UCLA."
Touchy about criticism that state and county money is being spent on a religious event, archdiocese spokesmen keep repeating that the only public money involved is going for security. Nevertheless, fervent voices of protest have been raised.
A diverse group -- Christians, Jews, atheists, the ACLU, National Organization for Women members among them -- banded together to scrutinize the almost $4 million in state, county and federal dollars fueling the massive visit. They noted that the Philadelphia Archdiocese had to repay the city of Philadelphia as a result of a legal challenge to spending during the pope's visit there in 1979.
State Rep. Mike Friedman, angry that the state appropriation for the pope started at less than half a million and ended up at $1.5 million, charged that the additional million was railroaded through at 4 a.m. on the last night of the session. The money could better be used, says Friedman, for such things as his proposed $4.3 million aid package for the homeless, which got knocked down to $1 million.
And Susan Glickman, of the coalition, charges that there are hidden costs, including the salaries of county employes who have been detailed to work on the papal visit. "A memo went out to the department of parks and recreation with work assignments attached. Some 200 employes are working full time on this event. With overtime it will run into more millions. That's all taxpayers' money."
For weeks, the major battle was over closing the Dade County public schools -- a decision fought by some members of the school board -- and an attempt by the archdiocese to rent 600 school buses to transport people to the mass site. A request of five atheists that the schools be reopened was dismissed a few days ago by a federal judge who ruled that the closing did not violate the constitutional division of church and state. The schools stayed closed, but -- after the ACLU threatened to sue, citing a Florida law about restricting such use -- the church didn't get the buses.
Abortion clinics were another battleground until the archdiocese requested that antiabortion groups call off their planned demonstrations and do something more peaceful in honor of the pope. "Forcing clinics to close as some sort of bizarre gift to His Holiness is neither American democracy nor Christian conduct," said Janis Compton-Carr, executive director of the Florida Abortion Rights Action League. Antiabortion groups now insist they will be peaceful, but the flap became moot, in part; about half of the 18 clinics will be shuttered because of street closings and congestion.
When the pope and the president stroll through Vizcaya's gardens tomorrow, several hundred protesters will attend a "Cure AIDS Now" rally and "Dance For Life" across the street. They want the pope to speak out on the disease and for sex education and will carry such placards as "Help Us to Heal, Not Judge."
"It's costing nearly $6 million to have the pope visit and we can't get enough beds for AIDS patients. Let the church pay the $5 million!" said Marlene Arribas, one of the protest organizers.
For some time, it looked as though Jews would bitterly boycott the pontiff, but his recent meeting with Jewish leaders in Rome salved some of the sting of his previous meeting with Austrian President -- and former Nazi -- Kurt Waldheim. A Friday morning gathering with Jewish leaders is now on the schedule.
The Survival Manual Popememorabilia. Survival instructions are out for the half a million who will trek before dawn Friday to see John Paul (or Juan Pablo as he is called by the predominantly Latin community) and participate in the trilingual mass -- English, Spanish and Creole (for Haitians): Bring folding chairs, raincoats, sun screen, ice water, a Sony Walkman, orange juice, nuts and granola bars. They are cautioned not to bring signs or banners and, hardly standard gear of mass attendees, "sticks or weapons."
The county is puzzled about what to do with the 24 miles of rope that will be used to hold back the masses along the parade site. One suggestion has been to market it to recoup county expenses. Given the tastefulness quotient of other items being hawked, a 10-inch piece of Pope Rope would have almost a touch of dignity.
It pales next to the "Let Us Spray" sprinkler, or the trinket that Fr. O'Reilley heard is being readied in San Antonio: a pope's ring with rubber lips. When you kiss it, it kisses you back.