The first question my wife and I asked ourselves: what do you wear to a papal mass at Yankee Stadium?
A few weeks ago, when the deacons of Brooklyn were offered tickets to this big event, that seemed to be the most pressing issue. Jacket? Tie? Comfortable shoes? What if the weather was bad? In the end, we went for "Typical Sunday Catholic" – nice, casual, with shoes built for a lot of walking. It turned out to be a good move. When we arrived at the stadium Sunday morning at 10 a.m., there was a lot of walking. And waiting. And lines. It was like being at Disney World, but without the tropical sunshine and characters with big plastic heads. The weather was unexpectedly cool – brisk, in fact, up in the loge, where we sat – and I kept muttering over and over "I wish I'd brought gloves."
I killed time by browsing the souvenir stands – which were jammed. They had two young women working one window with 40 or 50 people waiting. I got in line to buy a $20 tee shirt and some rosaries. It was nearly a half an hour before I got to the window. The girl on the other side sighed. "This is worse than a Yankees game," she said. "Yeah," I chirped. "But we're a lot nicer, aren't we?" She laughed. I have to say: the monumental mob of people was very well-behaved. Maybe it was grace. Maybe it was good manners. Maybe it was the fear of committing sin and then not being able to find a priest for an impromptu confession. (Fat chance: I've never seen so many priests in one place in my life. There's nothing like going into the men's room at Yankee Stadium and seeing a line of guys in robes, cassocks or albs. I don't even want to imagine what the mechanics of that arrangement might involve...)
Time passed quickly. There were several entertainers, including Stephanie Mills and Harry Connick, Jr. A high point: Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who sang a stirring rendition of "God Bless America." Bit by bit, section by section, people spontaneously began to stand. And then sing. By the end, every soul in the stands was on their feet, singing their hearts out. It was the first of many lump-in-the-throat moments.
Another came at about 2:15 p.m. when, across the stadium, we saw the popemobile round the corner and begin to nose its way onto the field. The place went nuts. "Ben-eh-dee-toe! Ben-eh-dee-toe!" When we'd passed through the turnstiles that morning, ushers had given us programs and gold or white hankies – the papal colors – and at this moment, everyone began waving them. The stands were a sea of cloth. As the popemobile slowly circled the field, we caught our first glimpse of Benedict – beaming, arms outstretched, his fingers waving at us. He seemed tickled to be there.
The mass was beautiful, and surprisingly quick. (But, the sound system was awful. I have to presume it sounded better on TV.) The near-epic distribution of communion – 60,000 hosts given by 500 priests – went very smoothly. And before we knew it, it was done. The deacon declared: "The mass is ended, go in peace." And so we did.
The pope, after changing his vestments, made another round in his popemobile. People seemed genuinely saddened to see him go – almost pleading with him to linger a while longer. But he had a plane to catch. After a few minutes, the white car disappeared, and we began our long exit.
The mass had concluded around 5 p.m. The most challenging part was shuffling with the herd down all the ramps to the street. It was slow going. But once we got there, and made our way to the subway, it was remarkably efficient. A subway train arrived seconds after we hit the platform – and it wasn't as crowded as I'd expected. My wife and I made it back to Queens around 6:30.
It will take a long time to process what we saw and experienced. But the memory of this mass is something I'll always cherish. There is nothing to compare with the shared excitement of praying with the pope – or singing the Our Father with 60,000 other people. If anyone had their doubts about it, they couldn't help but feel that, for a few hours yesterday n Yankee Stadium, it was unbelievably cool to be Catholic.