By Jennifer Rios
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON - The city’s Catholic leader hopes Pope Benedict XVI will see a “little slice of the church” that represents the rest of the United States when he makes his first U.S. visit as pope next month.
“If we ever get all the tickets distributed,” Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said, laughing at a news conference Thursday.
An estimated 45,000 people will need those tickets to attend Mass April 17 at Nationals Park, the first non-game event to take place at the new baseball stadium. He will speak to Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America, and to interfaith leaders at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, after the Mass.
On April 16, his 81st birthday, the pope will meet with President Bush. He will also meet with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The archdiocese is still sorting out seating arrangements for the Mass, but “for every seat available we have at least three requests” from people in the area and from across the country, Wuerl said.
Tickets for the Mass will be mailed two weeks in advance, Wuerl said, in part to cut back on time recipients could use to sell the free tickets. Individual churches are deciding how to distribute their ticket allocations. Blocks of tickets are slotted for high school students and for nursing home residents.
Wuerl said the archdiocese wants to make sure that every aspect of the community will be represented.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services USA and Wuerl both worked with Pope Benedict when he was known as Joseph Ratzinger.
Wuerl described the pope as a “warm, caring, kind person who also happens to be extremely bright.”
Broglio said the quiet lifestyle the pope leads contrasts with the more visible life of Pope John Paul II.
After his Washington visit, the pope will spend three days in New York, where he will speak at the United Nations and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.
Wuerl suspects that Benedict will cover two main points in his homilies. He will reaffirm the Catholic faith and challenge people to live the church’s doctrine.
Broglio said the church leader has been briefed on significant topics the U.S. is facing, such as immigration. The two archbishops said Pope Benedict would touch on topics such as peace, justice, human rights and the environment. This week the Vatican released a new list of sins, including pollution.
The archdiocese is honoring the pope’s visit by collecting and donating nonperishable food.
“In his name, we can give to food banks,” Wuerl said, to attest to “his concern for the poor and needy around the world.”