Being on the church council and inviting our pastor over each summer to go swimming (which he loves) netted us two tickets to the Pope’s mass at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium today. Although I’d call myself a “cafeteria Catholic” in that I don’t subscribe to all the beliefs of the Church, I still wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to attend such a special event.
Just in case you don’t get through the entire article, I want to say up front that seeing the Pope in person (or on TV) is much different than seeing pictures of him. I’ve thought many times that he looks like the evil emperor from Star Wars and even a bit creepy, but watching him speak his Homily and preside over the Mass gave me new respect for him. I even agree with Stacie that he’s a cute, little old man.
Getting to and into the Stadium
Although the mass wasn’t until 10am, we had to be in our seats by 8:30am. Backtracking to when we have to wake up and leave the house, that put us at 5:30am for wake-up. We walked to our local metro station (20 minutes), rode to Chinatown, then took the Green Line to the Navy Yard. The train was packed by L’Enfant, but everyone was very pleasant (they better be, they’re going to church!). We exited the station around 7:45am and that’s when the fun started.
Foot traffic was moving relatively well out of the station, so I commend WMATA for their organization and coordination. The Navy Yard station is about a block from the stadium so the walk was short, but when we came up to the entrance, it was pretty packed. If you didn’t know, we had to go through metal detectors and they searched our bags, which meant for long lines. And here’s where I got annoyed.
The stadium staff told the crowd that the first base entrance had much shorter lines. We followed the directions, which took us 5 more minutes of walking. But when we got there, the lines were longer and we realized we were on the opposite side than our seats (they were on the third base line). Anyway, we worked our way through the crowd and had an uneventful entrance, but we didn’t get to our seat until about 8:20. Just in time.
Review of the Stadium
I must say I didn’t focus too much on the design of the stadium since we needed to get to our seats, but the stadium had a well-sized and clean concourse, numerous restroom locations and concessions, and a great view from most seats (at least on the lower row). As a note, we bought two 16.7 oz. bottles of water for $4 whereas they’re normally $4 each. They has a special “Pope Price”.
As for the field, the grass that was visible was beautifully manicured and there were few, if any, obstacles to view. However, there wasn’t anything spectacular about the styling or architecture and I was rather disappointed that I didn’t notice anything that made the ballpark unique. Sure, some seats (not ours) could see the Capitol Building, but otherwise it was just a regular, generic ballpark. Boring,
I’ll refrain from giving a recap of the entire mass, but I will share some of my thoughts and feelings from being there in person.
We sat in section 202 (second layer up and by third base), and had to deal with the bright, hot sun all day (we both got sunburned). We thought we would be bored, but the choirs and soloists prior to the mass were excellent. It was also pretty cool to see so many priests, monsignors, brothers and deacons in the crowd on the field (see photo):
A bit after the priests came out (ushered by 4th degree Knights of Columbus), the bishops, cardinals and heads of Orthodox churches came out. Most were dressed in red, with a few in white mixed in (the Orthodox I believe). That’s when I started to feel like I was seeing something special. Wow, all these incredible leaders in one place and I’m also there! And then around 9:30am, the announcer came on the jumbo-tron and announced the Pope had arrived.
And out came the Pope-Mobile!
Unfortunately, they drove too close to the wall for people sitting higher up (like us) to see him well. He did a full circle of the stadium and as he passed each section, cheers rose up and waving little yellow/white Vatican City flags. I had flashbacks of Terrible Towels from the Steelers game we attended 2 years ago! Not quite the same I guess.
Jumping forward to when the Pope was finally seated at the altar and Archbishop Wuerl was welcoming him to D.C., that’s why I got a little emotional inside, as did Stacie. I think just the overwhelming sense of grandness and exclusivity struck me and to know I was a part of it made my heart jump.
The Homily (aka Sermon)
I won’t try to highlight everything about the homily, but I will commend the Pope for not trying to hide the clergy abuses and for meeting with some of the abused from the Boston archdiocese later in the day.
The Pope does have a strong German accent, so a few words were a little tough to grasp, but overall he spoke very well even if it was from paper (I hear he’s less spontaneous than John Paul II). However, I got a bit worried when he finished the homily in English and then switched to Spanish. I thought he was going to repeat the entire 10-15 minute homily! Luckily he didn’t, but whatever he said brought cheers from the Hispanic members of the crowd. But then it turned into prolonged, random cheers around the stadium which I felt were inappropriate since this was a mass, not a sporting event.
I know this is the part many people want to know about simply because of the logistics of serving communion to over 45,000 people. First, they only offered the bread, not the wine. And they did have about 2 Eucharistic Ministers for each section. It took a little waiting to get up, but communion only took about 10 minutes, or at least it felt like it. That’s not bad for so many people, right? Oh, and we obviously didn’t kneel. When we would normally kneel, we stood instead.
Lastly, I didn’t know until now who the amazing singer was during the last communion song. It was Placido Domingo! At first glance, I thought it was Andrea Bocelli, but I realized it wasn’t him and just thought he was a excellent singer. I’m not a big classical music fan (I like it here and there), but he just sang beautifully and I now know why people pay hundreds to see him sing. Simply an amazing voice. Here’s his performance on Youtube.
End of Mass and Getting Out of the Stadium
While exiting, the Pope seemed to want to interact with everyone he passed in the aisles, but the Secret Service bodyguards were pushing back admirers a little too roughly in my opinion. But before he left, he kissed a baby on the forehead which made the entire stadium go “awwww” and then erupt in cheers. I found out this evening that the baby is the Jets’ quarterback’s 4-week-old baby daughter. It was sweet.
When the mass ended and the Pope exited through the dugout, there wasn’t much reason to linger around. I considered going back to the Navy Yard Metro and just accept the huge crowd, but we asked a fellow attendee how to get to the Capitol South metro. He directed us that the metro was only “5 blocks up and 1 block over”, and we were exiting right onto South Capitol Street anyway. Getting out of section 202 was so easy as the ramp and exit gate were right there, plus many people stayed behind to get snacks or buy souvenirs.
We got right outside with no problem and started up South Capitol Street. About a block up, we realized that a crowd was forming along the road. It could only mean the Pope was going to drive by! I fully expected him to be in the Pope-Mobile, but he roared by 5 minutes later in a black limo. While I was trying to take pictures, Stacie saw him waving through the window (which I missed). Oh well.
Getting to the Metro
Our new friend was a bit off on the distance to the metro as it was more like 10 blocks up and 2 over. After the first block of spectators milling about, we had no problem booking it that 3/4 mile to the metro. However, I wouldn’t feel safe on that walk without the crowds or police around. Southeast D.C. isn’t known for its safe neighborhoods, and half of the walk was littered with boarded up buildings, empty lots with an odd stack of oil barrels. But with police on every corner, I felt fine. However, I doubt whether they have anywhere near the numbers during regular Nationals games.
Once on the metro, we encountered no crowds, which was very odd. There was almost no one else on the train! Where was everyone? Did we walk THAT fast? Actually, we did.
Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant
Before going home, though, we stopped off at Woodley Park and walked over to Adams Morgan to eat lunch at Meskerem Ethiopian restaurant. It’s not as good as Zed’s, but it was on our train line and a shorter walk for us. We had a fried dumpling appetizer filled with mashed cabbage, potatoes and carrots and a good bit of butter. They were excellent and definitely hit the spot for both of us.
I also had a glass of Ethiopian honey wine, which I’ve been trying to find in bottles forever! For the meal, we shared a Vegetable Messob (sampler) for two and between the two of us (mostly me), we finished off almost the entire meal, including the injera lining on the plate. I was hungry! The meal came out to $33 with tax (D.C. tax is 10%), and I tipped a little over 20% to a nice, round $40.
On the way out, another couple with the same mass bags as us came in to eat and then we realized how really fast we must have been moving! We struck up a short conversation with them and found out that they were sitting below us in section 105. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t see the altar as the speaker poles blocked their view AND the weren’t shaded from the sun either.
And then we left them, walked back to Woodley Park, got back in Rockville and walked home (another 20 minute walk). We watched some recaps of the mass on the news for about 30 minutes and then both passed out for a nice, long 2 hour nap.
All in all, I’m glad I had this opportunity. Sure, seeing any head of state is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but this one is also the head of my family’s faith. I may not feel the same way about the Pope as other Catholics do (i.e. I think he’s just another human, just with really good connections and education), but I can’t deny that he’s much more enlightened than me on many matters and that gives him a special level of respect in my mind.