A few yards from the thousands of people assembling to celebrate mass on the Mall with Pope John Paul II, two visitors from New York ducked into the National Gallery of Art.

"We came here to get away from the pope," said Frances Berley, who sat down with her husband Dan for a quick lunch in the museum's basement cafeteria, just across the Mall from the papal altar.

The couple arrived in Washington a few days ago for a bar mitzvah, and yesterday were among the uncounted masses here unaffected by the presence of the pontiff.

Like the Berleys, many Washington area residents and visitors spent yesterday in parks, museums, shopping malls and restaurants. For some, football fever was greater than religious fervor.

"We were watching the pope until 1 p.m., but when the Redskins game came on, we switched to that," said Paul Meagher, manager of the Hawk and Dove Restaurant on Capitol Hill. "People came here to see the football game, so that's what we give them."

Even if the numbers attending the mass had approached the one million predicted by some, there would have been many more people in the metropolitan area who stayed home or engaged in nonreligious events than went to the Mall.

At White Flint Mall in Montgomery County, hundreds of people came for leisurely Sunday shopping.

"I guess I'll shop for a while and then go home and get ready to go to an est meeting (sensitivity training session)," said Donna Raymond, a county resident, as she inspected cosmetic bags in a shop called Over the Rainbow.

Raymond, who was raised a Catholic but is no longer religious, said she wasn't interested enough in yesterday's papal activities to venture into Washington's crowds.

Joanne Frankel, eating lunch at White Flint, was even less interested in all the religious activity. "It's a non-event," she said. "The only way it affects me is because of traffic jams."

In Old Town Alexandria, shops were filled with customers. Kathleen Nagle, from Columbia, said she had neither the interest nor inclination to fight crowds downtown in order to see the pope.

Although she went to a Catholic grade school, high school and Jesuit college, Nagle no longer considers herself a Catholic. She said her 10-year-old daughter asked her yesterday, "What is a pope?"

Abe and Elizabeth Kochba also preferred Old Town to the tumult on the mall, but for another reason. Both are Jewish, and Abe Kochba said they will have "no respect for the church or the pope" until he recognizes the state of Israel.

At Bailey's Crossroads, a bit farther from the papal pageantry, George Siciliano spent part of yesterday shopping for toys for his son and said he did not worry about missing a view of the pope.

"We don't go to see Santa Claus either," he said with a chuckle.

Siciliano's wife Virginia said she was avoiding yesterday's activities as a form of protest. "I'm for abortion, and I'm for birth control, so I wouldn't go down there," she said. "I think he discriminates against women."

Arturo Fuentes, a Catholic living in Arlington, said he preferred the comfort of his own living room to the crowd on the Mall: "We caught the pope all day long on TV.That's enough. There are too many people and too little parking spaces."

Fuentes' sentiments were repeated all around the Washington area. Frank DeAngelis, a Philadelphia native who was in town visiting a friend, took his family to the National Zoo yesterday.

Though a Catholic, he said he was not very interested in seeing the pope in person. "We don't need to wade through a million people to see him. That's crazy," he said.

For those who weren't intimidated by reports of closed streets, immense crowds and impossible parking arrangements, yesterday turned out to be a good time for sightseeing.

At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum a few blocks below the altar, crowds were smaller than usual. "It's a really good day to see either of the movies shown here," said Sheila Kay Myers, a guide at the information desk.

Jeff and Pat Cohn and their four-year-old-son walked from their home in Southwest Washington to spend the day at the museum. Pat Cohn is Catholic, and as she walked around the museum, just down the street from the spot where John Paul would celebrate mass, she said she was toying with the idea of going to see him after all.

"I'm a borderline Catholic, but this pope has made me feel closer to the church," she said."He's taken firm religous stands I don't agree with, but he has made a strong statement that all men have the same dignity and are entitled to the same human rights, and I like that."