Blessings-by-television won't count. Chicago priests are telling parishioners that if they want the papal bendiction, their "personal presence" is required among the expected multitudes at the pope's Friday mass near Lake Michigan.

In Philadelphia, the archdiocese has issued "gold" tickets to a secret list of VIPs, guaranteeing recipients seats near Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday mass in Philadelphia's Logan Circle. The only confirmed gold-ticket holder to date: Mayor Frank Rizzo.

In its own way, each of the six cities that will host the first pope ever to tour the United States is counting down the hours before his arrival.

Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Chicago and Washington are pulsing with joyous expectation and nervous anticipation of his week-long travels.

The "personal presence" of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people at outdoor papal masses is predicted at every stop. Downtowns probably will shut down in most cities the day the pope visits. Rush- hour traffic likely will become a snarled stand-still during the afternoon services. The population of one city, Des Noines, is expected to double or tiple during the pope's four-hour Iowa sojourn.

But no one feels confident making detailed predictions about what will actually happen when the pope arrives. The most consistent refrain heard from officials at each point on his itinerary is simply that "nothing like this has ever happened before."

Washington Post staff writer T.R. Reid reports from Boston:

It no longer may be the hub of the universe, but Boston is the hub of the nation's most heavily Roman Catholic region and the city is bracing for an unprecedented influx of New Englanders to hear the papal mass on the Boston Common tomorrow afternoon.

Something like 2 million people will jam the downtown area around the Common, according to archdiocesan and police estimates -- a crowd three or four times larger than any that downtown Boston has ever seen.

Police have closed the area to traffic and the multitudes will have to go to and from the mass on the city's aging transit system, which is seldom up to the task of handling even the 650,000 people it serves on a normal weekday.

"We're going to try to get the pope to bless our bus fleet," sighed one transit official.

The situation is complicated by a religious coincidence: the papal mass occurs on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Though most of Boston's Jews live in the suburbs, big Yom Kippur services are still held downtown and elderly Jews had to be exempted from the traffic ban to get to them.

The Boston police initially planned to assign each Jew a code number which he or she would recite to get past the police lines. But when Jewish leaders suggested the notion of coding Jews evoked memories of Nazi tactics, the police relented and agreed that any Jew bearing a letter from his rabbi will be permitted to drive to downtown services.

All the hordes will hit the Common on Monday. Camping there to save a seat has been prohibited and the city plans to turn on sprinklers near the mass site this evening to make sure no one spends the night.

Washington Post staff writer Lee Lescaze reports from New York:

Almost half of New York's 23,700 police officers, 3,500 wood barriers, 53 miles of rope, 17,500 signs reading "Police Lines -- Do Not Cross" will be part of what the police department calls "Operation Shepherd."

"We will have more officers on the street next week than we have ever had," Police Chief Robert J. McGuire said.

The Archdiocese of New York began planning for the papal visit when it was still only a rumor. That was so long ago there were fears that Yankee Stadium might not be available for a mass if the Yankees were in the American League playoffs -- about the only problem that has since disappeared.

The subway system will put extra trains into service to carry the crowds, which will probably be about 70,000 at both Shea and Yankee Stadiums, and close to 20,000 at Madison Square Garden, plus thousands more along the streets.

The insoluble problem is traffic. It is expected to be a nightmare. Many of the pope's longer trips during the 58 miles of his planned travel through New York streets will be made at rush hour, including his first trip from the airport to the United Nations.

Washington Post Staff Writer Warren Brown reports from Philadelphia:

The excitement that sweeps through the throngs attending the pope's mass at Philadelphia's Logan Circle Wednesday afternoon is likely to be fraught with as much ethnic pride as religious zeal.

Many Italian and Irish Catholics, for instance, are scurrying about the city trying to find enough Irish and Italian flags to wave alongside their gold-and-white papal banners.

Buildings are being spruced up around the city, even in areas the pope is never likely to see -- just on the off-chance he will put in an appearance.

There are no plans for him to visit St. Hedwig's Church, a few blocks from Logan Circle, but workmen, including Rev. Edward B. Baraniak -- covered with sawdust and splashes of varnish -- are laboring frantically to present the Polish parish in appropriate splendor.

Security is, of course, a major concern, especially since Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill and an aide were attacked by muggers last Thursday after attending a planning conference for the pope's visit.

Washington Post staff writer Bill Peterson reports on Des Moines:

The 200-acre natural amphitheater at Living History Farms outside Des Moines looked this weekend like a medieval encampment just before a big battle. Loudspeakers were strung atop freshly installed telephone poles. Tents and port-a-toilets doffed the hillside in strategic locations. Workermen seemed to be everywhere.

No one knows how many people will show up to greet Pope John Paul II when he arrives Thursday for the only stop on his U.S. tour west of the Mississippi. Crowd estimates range from 500,000 to 750,000 -- two or three times the population of Des Moines.

But officials responsible for planning the visit are breathing a lot easier than a few weeks ago when a headline proclaimed; " If One Million People Flock to Des Moines, Will Chaos Follow?"

"We're kind of astonished at how much has been done," said Jay Anderson, research director at Living History Farms, a 600-acre outdoor agriculture museum where the pope will spend most of his four hours in Iowa. "There's a great sense of claim here."

Protestants and Jews have donated money to help the small Catholic diocese defray costs of the visit, and offered their houses of worship to help lodge and feed visitors.

Gov. Robert Ray has ordered 1,000 National Guardsmen on duty for the day, and put half of the state's police on the pope patrol. And the state has decided to close 12 miles of Interstate 80 through Des Moines, Iowa's capital and largest city, for use as a parking lot for 5,000 chartered buses expected for the day.

Everyone will have to walk at least a quarter-mile to get to the Living History Farm amphitheatre, and even the most optimistic officials worry how everyone will get out before nightfall.

Washington Post staff reporter Kathy Sawyer reports from Chicago:

Bracing for what may be the largest public gathering in this city's history, mayor June Byrne ordered the entire downtown area closed to automobiles Friday and is urging businesses to close for at least half the day.

With 24 million Catholics, the city is home of the nation's largest archdiocese. It is a sprawling melting pot of 15 different Catholic ethnic groups.

For this Polish pope, however, the focus will be on the huge community of over 214,000 Polish Catholics here, more than in most cities in Poland.

The highlights of the pope's stay here will be a Polish mass at a church on Chicago's South Side early Friday, and a huge mass that afternoon in Grant Park, the city's picturesque "front yard" on the shore of Lake Michigan, with the skyline as a backdrop.

Officials estimate that 1.5 million persons will see the pope here. From 650,000 to 1 million are expected for the Grank Park mass.

Police have warned that babies, the frail and the very old should stay away from the park that afternoon.

City officials have touted the event as a multimillion-dollar tourism bonanza for restaurants and hotels along State Street and Michigan Avenue. Chicago's "magnificent mile." There has been some grumbling, however, that the unexpected paid half-holiday will probably cost nontourist businesses $50 million by the most conservative estimates, according to John Coulter of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry.