When he addressed the 230,000 people who had gathered in a field outside the town he considers home, Pope Benedict XVI began by saying how much their presence proved the theme of his trip that "those who believe are never alone". He would not, the pope said, have imagined how much work it took to make the whole thing possible.
The words were written well before he got there, of course, but were all the more valid for that. Being pope is like being president — the office-holder does not have to worry about the details that plague everyday life: no keys to remember, change to carry, shopping lists to make, credit card or utility bills to pay. Not even schedules, routes and venues are a problem; someone else ensures all that. Thus it may well be something of a minor revelation for the pope to see the efforts of others on his behalf spread before the stage.
For the Mass in Regensburg, Germany, and every other papal visit venue, miles of plastic police line tape is strung to keep pilgrims on the right path. Hundreds of police have to be transported and told where to stand along the roads.
One wonders what would happen if there was a civic emergency of any kind. Every ambulance and fire truck for miles around seems to be parked wherever the pope turns up. What he might need a fire truck for beggars the imagination.
At every venue there are massive tents for the hundreds of volunteers — hundreds of port-a-potties to place and service. The facilities for the media include canteen-style catering and Internet connections, and the buses that bring us to those facilities have police escorts to clear the way.
Convenience for us, and the papal entourage, naturally means inconvenience for someone else. In the interest of speedy transport and security, roads are blocked off and traffic disrupted. It is always the same — which begs the question of why anyone other than the pilgrims in sandals and ubiquitous purveyors of papal kitsch would want one of these things to happen in their town.
Many here in Regensburg explained both their tolerance and interest by pointing out that Benedict was certainly the only German pope they would see in their lifetime, and as such his visit was, if nothing else, an historical occasion worth observing.
In the town of Allotting, where Benedict came to pay homage at an allegedly miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary and address seminarians, bright sunshine and warm temperatures helped bring out the faithful and the curious. Backpacks decorated with plastic yellow and white papal flags, bicycles, sandals with socks, portable folding chairs and Benedict neckerchiefs all added to the color of what many seemed to be treating as much as an outing as a day of worship. It was Monday, but if anyone other than vendors was at work, there was no evidence of it.
There was no alcohol sold until the papal Mass was over. But given that it all took place before noon, that wouldn't seem to have been a burden. The rationale behind the no-booze rule was that some people might have one too many and become boisterous, which could disturb the dignity of the occasion. As soon as the ceremonies were concluded, however, the cafes were thronged, with tall glasses of fine, foam-topped Bavarian beer much in evidence.