Like other multitudes who had come on their political crusades to Washington, they were from many places, of many colors and faiths, but they came reverently to see and be touched.

These people, Roman Catholics or not, gave themselves to Pope John Paul II for this October weekend of benign sunshine and feeling.

They came with their transistor radios and portable televisions, with blankets and packed lunches, with dogs and bicycles in tow, weaving their way through the profusion of vendors and security, all for the "once in a lifetime" view of the pope, as one after another put it.

That is what Thomas Diehlman said outside St. Matthew's Cathedral after planting his wife and four children, his mother-in-law and three companions in a front-row spot five hours before the pope's scheduled arrival.

Diehlman was sharing his tiny TV set and an enormous packed lunch with others crowded in behind the restraining lines. They were family, without so much as realizing it.

"I'm here to get the blessing and just be here," said Diehlman. "My Protestant friends ask, 'Who is this man?' and I tell them he could change the course of the world."

Priscilla Loges of Bethesda brought Brian, 10, Teresa, 12, and Megan, 6, to greet John Paul II with a homemade banner written in Polish. "Nasza Modlitwa Z Papiezem," it read: "Our prayers are with you, Father."

"It is pretty special to be here," said Teresa, "If I could meet him, I would say how much I love him and how much he's doing for the people in the world."

There were others, of course, even the faithful, who did not feel John Paul II is doing enough -- and they were outside St. Matthew's in force to let him know.

They were the activists from Catholic Advocates for Equality, whose blue-and-black banners urged on the pope such thoughts as "Sexism is a Sin" and "A Woman's Place is in the Sanctuary."

Carole Rayburn of Washington, a member of the group, held her equality sign high above the heads of the masses outside the cathedral. "We are here by the hundreds," she said. "In Christ there is neither male nor female. That is from Galatians 3:28."

If the pope saw her sign, it was not acknowledged. Rubar Reebar, a Kirdish refugee from Iraq, saw in John Paul's face what others saw.

"I am a Muslim, not a Christian, but I like him because I see peace in his face. . . .I never go into these crowds, but I came here because the pope is a holy man," Reebar said. "I'm not a Christian, but the religion doesn't make any difference.

The Polish-Americans -- "Polish and Proud," said their banners -- turned out in force. They carried signs of welcome in the language of their ancestors and many wore traditional garb of embroidered vests and red-flowered skirts or breeches.

Wearing such a dress was Maryanne Jarvis, 31, a member of the Polish Club of College Park. The pope's visit, se said, brought her to downtown Washington for a major public event for the first time in 25 years.

"I served the pope lunch in 1976 when he came here as a cardinal," Jarvis said. "I really think this event has brought Catholics out who haven't been out in a long time."

No doubt Jarvis was right -- but then, she didn't meet William Vale of Columbus, Ohio, a Catholic who followed John Paul II from Boston to New York to Philadelphia to Washington.

At Vale's side on a corner of Connecticut Avenue was a board holding part of his stock of 600 papal lapel buttons that he was selling for 75 cents apiece. He began with 1,600 in Boston.

But Vale said, it wasn't the money that brought him to the capital. It was the man. "Tears come to my eyes. I have a great feeling for him," he said. "He's a people's choice."

Daniel and Mary Agnes Connolly, retirees from Florida, were following the pope, much as Vale had. They saw him in New York twice, then came to Washington.

"Mama, would you look at that," Connolly cried, hugging Mary Agnes as the impressive papal motorcade swept past them down Connecticut Avenue. "Oh, praise him, praise him."

"This man is just so charismatic. What a See he is, Connolly added.

Diann Habermann of Fairfax, awaiting the pope since 9 a.m. on 17th Street, a good two hours before he arrived, was left with the same impression.

"He's such a dynamic man. . .This is once-in-a-lifetime." she said. By then it was late afternoon and she and her husband, Bill, and their three children were on the Ellipse south of the White House, hoping for one more view of the pope.

Bill Habermann spun the dial of a transistor, stopping for a smidgen of the Orioles-Angels basepall game, looking for a broadcast from the White House. He couldn't find it.

The pope was somewhere up there, across the expanse of green lawn, but the Habermanns couldn't see, just like the several hundred other devout around him.

It didn't much matter, Diann Habermann siad. "It's all been worthwhile."

Don't ask Tom Morrison if it was worthwhile until sometime this evening. He didn't see the pope yesterday because he has been camped on the Mall since Friday, awaiting the celebration of mass there by John Paul II today.

Morrison, a 24-year-old sailor stationed at Ft. Meade, was one of the handful of true-blue early birds who took up positions on the Mall to be near John Paul II.

Near midnight, more than 3.000 people were on the Mall, camping on blankets and singing religious and patriotic songs.

Among the crowd gathered 25 yards deep around the perimeter of the altar, a carnival-like, peaceful attitude prevailed as strangers exchanged friendly greetings, food, and thoughts about the coming papal mass.

A soft glow from laterns, flashlights and portable television sets illuminated groups of people singing, playing guitars, and couples snuggled up against the chill.