Pope Benedict's visit was obviously a wonderful, holy thing. But from a logistics standpoint, I'm made to understand from folks on the fringes of the storm, it was also something of a nightmare.
Kinda like you'd expect.
My experience with this was relatively minor. Saturday morning (as I started to describe in the post previous), I was one of a hundred-odd volunteers assisting at the Papal mass for clergy and religious at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Supposedly, our role was to meet the priests as they got off their busses and escort them to the rooms reserved at the Palace Hotel where they could change into their vestments. (No one, obviously, was allowed to get anywhere close to the Cathedral on their own initiative.) Thing was, the clergyfolk knew the drill already, so our job basically became to stand in line along the sidewalk corridor leading to the hotel and greet them as they passed by.
This was actually very cool. For one thing, I had no idea that nuns had so many different kinds of habits. Plus the weather was gorgeous. I was also standing right there as busses and busses of bishops unloaded for their procession, and again as the entire American delegation of cardinals filed out of the hotel.
Then there was lots of free food and plenty of downtime while the mass was going on. Problem was, no one was really around to explain to us where we needed to be next, or when. And we were the least of anyone's problems. There was the bus full of priests that broke down and couldn't get into the cathedral for security reasons until -- somehow this mattered -- the pope was already seated. There was the Secret Service deciding not to let through any more people who had special tickets to stand on the steps of the cathedral. A friend and I finally found a "volunteer coordinator" who had little more idea than we did as to what was next (not much, it turns out), but who told us all kinds of tales of woe from that morning -- most of them involving the Secret Service and the NYPD contradicting each other at every turn.
I found it hard to get frustrated at any of this. I was fine, it was a beautiful day, the pope was there and besides, don't these things tend to happen when four or five all-important institutions get together to coordinate a series of massive, max-security events in the busiest city on earth? Nothing more than a gentle lesson in human folly, poised in poetic contradistinction to the presence of the Vicar of Christ next door.
Or so I thought, until I found out that this very confusion was my chance for a much-coveted ticket to Yankee Stadium.
As it turned out, this volunteer coordinator was also working for the archdiocese on the papal visit, and she shared with us (as a variation on a theme) that there were still loads of tickets to the next day's mass that hadn't been given out. Again, this didn't surprise me greatly, given what I gathered was the intricate politics of distribution (with each parish and diocese just so) and the supposition that at least some people who had reserved tickets wouldn't show up to claim them.
But I didn't expect to be able to walk right into the official archdiocesan papal visit command center and ask for some.
Yet that's precisely what this woman suggested we do. Needless to say, we set out immediately (the offices were ten blocks away), and after a few minutes with a confused security guard, we were welcomed right upstairs.
The woman who greeted us was juggling ten other things -- "The governor's office is on the phone! They want to know about the photographer!" -- but she wasted little time handing us (at my friend's request) two tickets apiece.
Then she took them back. They were handicapped reserved. But out came two pairs of new ones, with the promising label "FIELD CHMP SEC 15, BX 59." Didn't know exactly what "field chmp" meant, but it sure sounded nice.
By now, it was becoming ever more apparent that they still had more tickets than they knew what to do with. So I went for it: "Can I have four?"
Moral of the story? Always ask.
I hesitated for a while to share this too broadly, lest anyone who missed out on tickets trying through the proper channels bemoan (understandably) the unfairness of it all. But as I think back on it (if you'll follow me for a second), that's precisely what made the whole thing kinda special.
There were any number of reasons the powers that be could have cited to turn away two brash young volunteers who showed up the day before the event. There was a system, after all -- as there needed to be, especially for something as big and important as the pope.
But there we were, and so were the tickets -- and as I'm sure the pope reminded us at some point during his visit, if everything were meted out by the standards of exacting justice, we'd all be goners anyway.
Besides, God wouldn't like it as much.