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 CNS Story:

NATIONALS-NOSEBLEED Apr-17-2008 (560 words) xxxn

Front-row seats not necessary to enjoy papal Mass

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many remember Bob Uecker, the former major league baseball catcher, more for his post-baseball career than for his playing days.

One of his more memorable forays was a beer commercial in which the usher plucks him from his seat, with Uecker saying to his friend, I must be in the front ro-oooow ..." only to be shown at commercial's end sitting by himself in the nosebleed seats, hollering about a play taking place 500 feet from him, "He missed the tag!"

Such was inevitably the lot of plenty of fans -- Pope Benedict XVI fans -- at Nationals Park in Washington for the April 17 papal Mass.

Only 5,000 or so people could get tickets placing them on the field. Only another 20,000 or so could sit in the lower bowl of the "100-level" seats.

Still, there are three other seating tiers at Nationals Park. And between each tier is a level of suites where fans -- of baseball or of popes -- can take in the action on the field in elements-protected, climate-controlled comfort. This puts the seats in the 200, 300 and 400 levels way back. Wayyyy baaaack!

But don't pity the folks sitting in the last row. To them, for a papal Mass there's not a bad seat in the house.

Go to Section 224, Row X, Seats 1 and 2. There sat Jim McWeeney and his son, Patrick, members of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Va. McWeeney had, until one week before the Mass, managed the parish's altar servers, of which Patrick was one.

A few years ago, Father Ryan Lewis, a priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., was studying in Washington at The Catholic University of America and became a weekend associate at Our Lady of Hope. From there a friendship developed.

"We keep in touch. Very close touch," McWeeney said.

When Father Lewis informed McWeeney, three days before the Mass, that he couldn't use his tickets, McWeeney snapped them up.

Despite being in the nosebleed seats, "it's a fantastic setting. They did a great job with the altar. They did a great job with the stadium," he said. "It's just a great day."

There was one thing, however. Shrouded by shade before the Mass, "maybe we could have been dressed a little warmer," said McWeeney, as he and his son were both clad in shorts.

Even farther back, in Section 401, Row N, Seats 25-29, sat Trisha Decker and her group. The seats came courtesy of the public address system manager at Nationals Park. The manager's wife is choir director at St. Mary Parish in Landover Hills, Md., and Decker and some of her companions are choir members.

"He just got access to the extra tickets yesterday," Decker said before Mass started. "A lot of our choir members are singing in the papal choir." But Decker missed out on the chance for a papal choir spot and lost out with the parish raffle for its seat allotment.

Decker's daughter, Tracy, a grade school teacher, told Catholic News Service that once she was offered the chance to go to the papal Mass, "I got a sub at three o'clock in the afternoon, wrote up some (lesson) plans, and now I'm here."

Izabella Lopez, a Decker family friend, had less of a hassle getting off work. "I work for an order of Catholic priests. They were understanding."


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