Heaven Can, and Did, Wait for Bus No. 5 : It Took Faith and Lots of Fidgeting : What They Wore

Times Staff Writer

As the minutes ticked off Tuesday afternoon and four other buses finally left for the Papal Mass at the Coliseum, the remaining parishioners from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fountain Valley waiting for Bus No. 5 began to wonder.

They weren't exactly doubting that the prodigal bus would arrive--not yet. Most had already beaten the odds by winning tickets to the Mass in the church's lottery.

The Blanc clan of Fountain Valley, for example, had won four separate pairs of tickets, enabling the closeknit family of three generations--who live in two houses next door to each other--to make the outing together.

'A Miracle in Itself'

Winning the tickets, said George Blanc, 51, an associate dean at Orange Coast College, "was a miracle in itself. It was almost embarrassing." When the names of the winners were listed in alphabetical order, he said, "it looked really bad."

Blanc, traveling to the Mass with his parents, his wife and their four children, said: "Our faith means a lot--everything for us as a family." The two older Blanc sons, both former altar boys and students at Cal State Fullerton, carried college texts with them.

Scanning the horizon in vain, Blanc predicted: "We're going to appreciate this even more than the other four buses."

One who didn't have to wait was Ruth Richards of Huntington Beach, who won a ticket in the lottery but was injured in a serious car accident a week ago. Until Monday, when the 22-year-old Chapman College senior was released from the hospital in a wheelchair and neck brace, she didn't think she would be able to attend.

"I had already decided I wouldn't be able to go," she said, telling herself: "If the good Lord wants me there He'll find a way to get me there."

Later that night, she learned from Father Tim Doyle that there had been a cancellation in the disabled-seating section, making it possible for her to attend. Her luck held, and she left Holy Spirit on Bus No. 1.

Jan Zimmerman, a systems analyst from Fountain Valley who was traveling by herself to the Mass, admitted to being a little nervous at the unexpected wait.

"I don't like this kind of drama!" she said, as another colleague tried to locate the phantom bus.

Zimmerman, a "cradle Catholic" who works with adults interested in conversion and also takes consecrated Communion wafers to the sick, said she wasn't sure whether she had won her ticket in the lottery or whether she received one of the discretionary tickets made available to active parish members.

Confident that the bus would arrive and equipped with a Sony Watchman television in order not to miss anything, Zimmerman was looking forward to the Coliseum Mass.

"Having an arena filled with people at worship transfigures a place," she said, recalling other Masses she has attended at the Anaheim Convention Center. "I expect something similar."

So strong was the expectation that Zimmerman planned to take today off from work.

"I suspect I will be on such a high that I won't be able to concentrate," she said.

About 1 1/2 hours after the scheduled departure time, the wayward bus pulled up to the church, greeted by cheers of relief.

The driver had at least three explanations, varying in plausibility: he was delayed by traffic around the motorcade route after dropping off his first load of parishioners; his dispatcher had written the wrong address on the pick-up sheet, and, while helping a passenger onto his vehicle he ripped his shirt, so he stopped to buy a new one.

After the drama of the wait, the 50-minute ride to the Coliseum was relatively uneventful.

Holly Sassone, a 10th-grader from Fountain Valley, wrote a letter to her sister and brother-in-law in Germany describing the day's event. Sandwiches were broken out, and doughnuts, courtesy of a parishioner who manages a shop, were distributed.

When they arrived, they learned that their situation was not unique. Other buses evidently had the same problem, and their near-simultaneous arrival at the Coliseum created long lines waiting to be cleared into the Mass.

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