WASHINGTON — On Oct. 6, 1979, Pope John Paul II emerged from a car’s sunroof, waving and smiling to thousands of cheering onlookers who lined Washington streets and even climbed trees for a glimpse of the Roman Catholic leader.
Things will be different when Pope Benedict XVI arrives next month.
The public will have fewer opportunities to see Benedict because of security concerns and a tighter schedule. Benedict has just one public event in the nation’s capital — a Mass at the Nationals stadium on April 17 — and will travel through the city in a closed car or in the popemobile, a specially designed and secure vehicle used by the pontiff during public appearances.
“His visit reflects the times we live in,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. “There has to be a little higher level of security, unfortunately.”
Earlier this month, Osama bin Laden accused Benedict of playing a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam.
Organizers of Benedict’s Mass in Washington are going out of their way to ensure that only legitimate attendees will enter the stadium. The tickets are nontransferable and each is bar-coded to a specific seat, Gibbs said. That way, if the archdiocese learns of a ticket being scalped on the Internet, the ticket can be canceled. To enter the stadium, adults will have to show a government-issued ID and pass through metal detectors.
While tickets are scarce, people have hardly stopped seeking them out: A waitlist posted quietly on the archdiocese’s Web site attracted nearly 500 individual requests for tickets in the first week, and workers are still fielding pleas by phone and e-mail from as far away as Australia, Gibbs said.
“We just don’t have the tickets. We’re oversubscribed,” Gibbs said.
The pope is scheduled to be in Washington from April 15 to April 17. He next heads to New York, where he is scheduled to address the United Nations, visit Ground Zero and celebrate a Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20 before leaving for Rome later that day.
In New York, the public’s access to the pope is also expected to be limited. According to the Archdiocese of New York, there have been more than 200,000 requests for the 57,000 or so seats for the Mass.