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Baltimore Revels in First Papal Visit

October 8, 1995

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Just a month after enraptured Baltimoreans feted hometown hero Cal Ripken, they came back to the Camden Yards ballpark to hail an even bigger superstar, a pope who entered to the beat of Boyz II Men and departed to a Beethoven hymn.

On a bright green field, under a piercingly blue autumn sky, Pope John Paul II and about 50,000 people celebrated the first papal Mass in the history of the nation’s first Roman Catholic diocese.

``This is Number 1,″ said Walter Gentile, an Orioles’ usher. Ripken’s record-breaking consecutive game No. 2,131 last month? ``That’s Number 2.″

The pope made his entrance at 10:52 a.m., as Boys II Men were singing. He slowly circled the warning track in his popemobile, while members of the crowd waved thousands of small white, red and yellow pennants.

The sun was so bright that several cardinals on the altar wore sunglasses, and an umbrella was held over the pope’s head at several points.

Out in the seats, some snapped photos, chatted, and laughed; others wiped tears from their eyes.

In a seat behind the visitors’ dugout, Eileen Mitchell of New York City clasped her hand to her mouth and pressed against the chair in front for a closer look.

She had given her ticket to see the pope in Central Park to an elderly woman in her parish. But that wasn’t the end of her hopes of seeing the pope. ``My sister called me on Friday and said, `I have an extra ticket, do you want to go,′ and I said, `Are you kidding?′ ″

Officer Stephen Herth noticed one effect of the papal visit. ``I haven’t met one rude person all day,″ he said. ``If everyone was this nice 365 days a year, I’d be out of a job.″

The last time Jennifer Otto saw Pope John Paul II in person, she was 8 months old and riding on her father’s shoulders. That was more than 16 years ago.

Sunday, Jennifer, her parents and her two sisters helped a priest serve communion to their section of the stadium.

``My religion is a big part of my life and always will be,″ she said. ``I have strong family values that my parents instilled in me.″

Margaret Stamm, like most of the crowd, left her Sunday best at home; she wore a comfortable nylon exercise outfit.

``He’s not going to see me,″ said Mrs. Stamm, 49, a teacher from Laurel. She said she came hoping to find some inner peace.

She described herself a smorgasbord Catholic, picking and choosing what she likes about Catholicism. Although she doesn’t always agree with the pope, she admires the consistency of his message.

``He does stand for something, and he upholds it. What’s right is right,″ she said. ``Lord knows, we need a moral leader in today’s world.″

She sat high above right field; down on the field, in the seats next to the altar, dress was more formal, and, in one case, more maternal.

Cristina Loane, 34 years old and 10 months pregnant, was asked how she got her great seat; her husband’s company put up the tents behind the altar, she explained.

Despite her location, she couldn’t hear the pope’s sermon very well. That was a common complaint, given the stadium acoustics and the Polish-born pope’s thick accent.

But for the most part, everyone praised the arrangements, even a couple of New York critics with some experience at staging such extravaganzas.

``Fantastic!″ said Cardinal John O’Connor, the pope’s host in Central Park. Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn also was impressed. ``Let me tell ya,″ he said, ``this is a great ballpark.″

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