Amid the multitude of faces turned to Pope John Paul II today when he offers mass at the Mall will be that of Anthony DuComb, his presence there capping a 12-year spiritual journey through a wilderness of doubt about his faith and his curch.
It is a journey that began in teenaged disillusionment in which he rejected many tenets of Catholicism and even questioned his belief in God, was married in a non-Catholic ceremony only to marry his wife again in a Catholic ceremony, had his son baptized a Catholic and yet never quite stopped seesawing between awe and anger, disappointment with and respect for the Catholic Church.
In the end, it has led him to the Mall and the feet of a pope, he says, who has made Catholics proud again of their heritage and spoken to him and others in a personal way to remind all that "there is something more to life."
On the mall alongside DuComb, his Protestant wife and his Catholic son, there may be thousands of others who have chosen -- at least for the momemt -- to cast aside similar doubts that have come between them and their church in recent years. Some authorities estimate that as many as one-quarter of the 49 million Catholics in America are inactive.
The resons appear uniquely American, a result of heightened awareness here of the rights of the individual and controversies about the church's position on birth control, abortion, divorce and women's rights.
Yet for DuComb and others, the pope's pastoral pilgrimage has served to remind them of a heritage that many say now was lost somewhere in the issue-oriented 1960s and 1970s.
DuComb, a 30-year-old Washington labor lawyer, grew up in the small, solidly Catholic city of Palmer, Mass. He was the kind of kid who could be found hanging around the rectory, the parish priests' home. He was drawn to the incense fragrances, the candlelight intimacy and the unworldly like silence of the church sanctuary.
He liked being around the altar and its special mystery as the one place on earth where, according the Catholic teaching, Christ and man could become united.
In his largely Irish Catholid parish, it was possible for boys to remain altar boys until they were graduated from high school, and DuComb remained one until he turned 18.
But soon after he left Palmer for college, DuComb said he quite simply lost interest in religion. "One day I was an altar boy. The next I just wasn't interested in it anymore. . .I guess I was interested in other things, like going to college, then finishing law school."
But more importantly, perhaps, away from the parish church and stripped of all the handsome pagentry and intriguing rituals, many of the basic teachings of the church, DuComb recalled, "began to seem absurd."
He began to doubt even his belief in God. "I still can't say I believe in God. I hope there is a God."
Still, over the years, as he finished school and traveled across the country, DuComb's Catholicism would resurfance on special occasions, rekindling that same sort of warm familial feeling he kept for his old Irish parish in Palmer. For a time, at least, it would replace the questions and the doubt.
He found hemself, for example, drawn each year to the church on one of its most festive, traditional events -- midnight mass on Christmas Eve. And, six years ago, when he decided to marry Robin Isenberg, an attorney who grew up in a mixed bag of Christian Science and Protestantism, he thought it would be best to have the wedding ceremony celebrated by both a priest and a Protestant minister.
But when DuComb went to the pastor of his old parish and asked to be married there, the priest said he couldn't be married within the Catholic Church because of his views on many church teachings.
Finally, a Methodist minister agreed to marry the couple.
"Anthony's parents were really upset," Robin Isenberg said. They came to us and asked us if we couldn't get married at a civil ceremony, you know, instead of being married by a Methodist. When Anthony's mother cried at the wedding, I don't think it was necessarily tears of joy."
But DuComb said he harbors no bitterness against the priest for refusing to marry him. "He was probably right. At that point, he probably couldn't have married us within the church."
But earlier this year, when the couple had their son, Christian George, DuComb struggled within himself over whether the child should be baptized a Catholic.
"I was really all for it,' Isenberg said. "But it was a difficult decision for Anthony. With him being sort of a lapsed Catholic, he thought it might be hypocritical. But I said I would be the one to follow up on Christian's education, even though I'm not Catholic."
DuComb eventually agreed. "I couldn't see myself bringing up a totally secular person. . .I guess I know now what it means when they say, 'Born a Catholic, die a Catholic." As much as I didn't want to get involved in the institutional church, I felt I would be doing Christian a great disservice if I didn't expose him to Catholicism," DuComb said.
"You've got to remember that, basically, the history of Western civilization for the past 2,000 years has been the history of the Catholic Church. For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church was the major educating force in the world.
"And though a lot of myths and misconceptions were spread around by the teaching priests, they also did a lot of good,"
At St. Mary's Church in Washington, the pastor readily agreed to baptize the baby. He also extended to the DuCombs the opportunity to remarry in a Catholic ceremony, which they did last May.
St. Mary's Church, located at 727 5th st. NW. in one of the depressed parts of the city, serves a parish where the members take on projects such as painting and repairs. DuComb said that as a result of the community spirit there, the parish has given him a warmer feeling toward the institutional church.
But it is the pope's visit, his jubilant, almost heroic pasage through the United States, he said, that has rejuvenated a sense of pride in being Catholic.
"There's been a certain feeling, historically, among Catholics that they have to be ashamed to be Catholic. . .Certainly there are great reasons why Catholics would want to keep a low profile. Certainly there have been times when the Catholic Church has been known for being less than enthusiastic about expanding the brotherhood of man. . .
"But this pope seems to be making people aware of a pride in their heritage. It's certainly proper to critique the shortcomings of any religion, but it's also proper to be proud of its accomplishments. [As Catholics] we've criticized ourselves for a long time and it's time to say, now we no longer have to hang our heads.
Any institution seems to forget its role every once in a while. It's the same thing for the Catholic Church. And this seems to be a remembering time."
While DuComb readily admits he doesn't agree with the pope's highly conservative stance on several key religious and moral issues, he said that what's more important to him now is the optimism that this pope exudes.
"He seems to be saying that real problems can be solved, like the problems of poverty, genocide, total annihilation, materialism, cynicism. That thing about cynicism really struck me because I'm a very cynical person. But you can't live life by being cynical. I mean, sitting around criticizing things isn't going to make things better."
Still, the pope's visit, he said has not spurred him to become a daily mass-goer again, or even to accept wholesale the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"I believe in hope, and maybe that's why I like this pope. There's something really hopeful about what he's saying. . .He's not going around demanding that you have faith or be charitable, but he's saying, if you have hope, things will be better."