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Papal Visit Hoopla : Catholicism: About 500,000 are expected in Denver for the Pope’s August visit. And they are full of questions about prairie dogs, the city and the event.

From Religious News Service

No, prairie dogs are not kept on leashes. And no one knows what the Pope wears under his robe--at least no one at the downtown office of World Youth Day here.

For the folks at the office, charged with helping to make arrangements for a mid-August visit by Pope John Paul II, a large part of their work involves fielding some pretty strange requests.

Some people have asked to have their pictures taken with Pope John Paul II (unlikely); one woman offered to be his Popemobile chauffeur (sorry); and almost every person with a video camera wants press credentials (bug off).

The office gets 40 to 60 calls an hour, five days a week. All have questions related to the gigantic papal Mass expected to draw 150,000 youths from around the world and nearly half a million visitors to Denver’s Cherry Creek State Park on Aug. 15.

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As in two visits by Pope John Paul II to the United States, in 1979 and 1987, entrepreneurs and folk artists are also gearing up. Some have announced that they are making afghans, quilts and blankets with the Pope’s face on them. Still others want to furnish flowers for the altar at Cherry Creek, and some have suggested zipper pulls with the Pope’s image on them, Popescopes (like a periscope), Popesicles and Pope-on-a-rope.

Cindy Matthews, World Youth Day spokeswoman, rolls her eyes at some of the calls. As sequels to reports that the papal Mass site once was a prairie dog village, the office gets calls asking: “Do you keep prairie dogs on leashes?” “Are they friendly with other dogs?” “Should I get a rabies shot before I come to Colorado?”

Evelyn Theiale, another Youth Day Worker, said: “I held my tongue on that (last) one and didn’t tell the woman that prairie dogs are rodents, not dogs, or that she should consider a shot for bubonic plague.”

Foreign visitors, said Matthews, “picture prairie dogs as a bunch of Lassies, I guess.”

Civic and religious organizations want the Pope to bless their groups, and people have offered to pay for front-row tickets. Sorry again. There are no tickets and no bribes taken for upfront seating.

Colorado’s Episcopal Bishop Jerry Winterrowd has invited the Pope to greet an ecumenical gathering at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. Rome has not yet answered that one.

Although hundreds of families have responded to pleas to host visiting youth by furnishing places to sleep, others have personal gain in mind. One caller said he’d rent a room for $800 a night. Others said they would rent out space on their roofs to people wanting a peek at the Pope.

One woman said she’d volunteer to help while John Paul is here but expected to stand next to him in return. And a California priest asked if he could say a Mass in April on the site the Pope will use in August.

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At least four people have volunteered helicopters for the Pope’s use, and a group of professional jump-ropers has volunteered to entertain him.

An Oklahoma couple told members of the World Youth Day staff that they plan to come to Colorado that weekend for their honeymoon.

“Can you imagine spending your honeymoon with a half-million people?” Matthews said.

And several people have asked World Youth personnel if it will be raining the day of the papal Mass.

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“Only God knows,” said Matthews, shaking her head.


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