Friday, March 14, 2008

"Planning the Papal Visit" - Catholic New York on Michael Ackerman)

Catholic New York's Claudia McDonnell profiles Mark G. Ackermann, executive director of the archdiocesan Office of the Papal Visit, whose mission, together with a 50+ person task force and hundreds of volunteers, is to see that the Pope's visit will "run as smoothly as the limousine that carries him from John F. Kennedy International Airport into Manhattan":

His job is to oversee almost every detail of planning and managing the visit of the pope and those who will be traveling with him. That includes such tasks as working on security; arranging for lodging and hospitality for visiting dignitaries, including U.S. cardinals and bishops; distributing tickets for papal events; booking popular entertainment for the papal youth rally at St. Joseph's Seminary; making sure that reporters and other media people have lodging and any technical assistance they need; and seeing to it that the papal schedule is followed to the minute.

It's a job that requires the skills of a corporate leader, a major general and an impresario, not to mention unflappability and the patience of Job. Ackermann, who spent 25 years at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and was most recently its chief administrative officer, seems both exceptionally qualified for the job and delighted to be doing it. In a recent interview in his office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, he spoke about his role in the New York papal trip.

"It is truly a privilege and an honor," he said. He also praised the many people working with him to make the visit a success. . . .

Ackerman is working with everybody from the New York Police Dept. and secret service to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of State and the White House:
He noted that the pope, as head of Vatican City State, receives the same protection as any other visiting head of state. And he said that President Bush has asked the White House physician to work with the pope's physicians to ensure that Pope Benedict remains healthy and safe during his visit. Last week the White House physician toured the sites where papal events will take place.
Consider some of the logistics of organizing this massive event:
  • about 800 buses are due to arrive at Yankee Stadium for the Mass, the largest number of buses ever to arrive at a single site in New York City.
  • There will be 800 concelebrants-cardinals, bishops and priests-on the altar, and an additional 550 priests in the stands who will distribute Communion.
  • Up to 400 buses will bring 25,000 young people-including 2,500 seminarians-to Yonkers Raceway to be transferred by shuttle bus to St. Joseph's Seminary.
Amazingly, beyond all the minute technical details of the Holy Father's visit, Ackerman stays focused on its spiritual significance:
Ackermann noted that Cardinal Egan wants the visit to be spiritually enriching for as many people as possible, and not just Catholics. The service at St. Joseph's Church in Yorkville, Ackermann said, will be an "unprecedented gathering" at which the pope will address members of other churches about his vision for the future of ecumenical relations. In addition, the timing of the visit has a strong interfaith link: it will occur as Jews gather for Passover, one of Judaism's holiest and most joyous celebrations.

For Catholic New Yorkers, there will be moments of special significance. Pope Benedict will become the first pope to celebrate Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral. And Ackermann observed that the Mass at Yankee Stadium "is becoming a national event" because it will celebrate the historic anniversaries of five dioceses: Baltimore, marking 200 years since it became the first archdiocese in the United States; and the four dioceses marking the 200th anniversary of their founding: New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville (originally Bardstown). Attending the Mass will be representatives from virtually every diocese in the United States.

Ackermann noted that Cardinal Egan strongly desires that the papal visit will be "truly pastoral," and that the people of the archdiocese spiritually prepare for it. He said that the cardinal's constant focus on the spiritual side of the visit "really has been inspiring to everybody involved."