Pope Drops By My ‘Hood

Scott Swenson

I went looking for protests as the Pope dropped by my neighborhood. As the Mass begins I can hear the cheering crowds from my apartment, but no chants from protesters. I'll have to go to a women's clinic to find protesters.

One of the best parts of living in Washington, DC, is people come from all over to visit you. Today, three blocks away from my apartment, the Pope dropped by to say Mass for 48,000 or so Catholics happy to greet him. Being the intrepid reporter I am, I went out this morning to interview some of the protesters outside the festivities there to protest the Pope's views on women, birth control, reproductive health, the rights of all God's Christian children to be in communion (even the gay ones) and of course, the pedophile priest scandal which the Pope himself is talking about on this trip.

Thousands of people eagerly made their way to Nationals' Stadium on a warm sunlit morning, as vendors selling "Savior Seat" cushions, yellow and white papal flags, buttons, tee-shirts and pennants with the likeness of the Pope hawked their trinkets. More police were working these four square blocks on this one morning than most neighborhoods in Southeast DC see in one full year combined. Most of the cops looked like they were at a picnic, relaxed, laughing, sharing stories. The protests today were not causing them the same trouble as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund meetings or G-8.
It's worth noting that where the Pope is saying Mass, literally as I write this, many people used to dance until dawn in nightclubs that featured drag performers that would die for some of the outfits on display at the stadium today. The stadium just opened a few weeks ago, and before the city sold its soul to real estate developers and Major League Baseball, this neighborhood wasn't a place you'd find a Pope, or anywhere near this many police. The warehouses, night clubs, public housing, pimps and drug dealers that once called this neighborhood home have been replaced by a higher class of multi-millionaire hustlers. Nobody protested much when the city wanted to improve the neighborhood, but some complained about the corporate welfare used to build the stadium and lure the millionaires; tax dollars and police protection that was never invested into the housing, schools, helath care or people who lived here before.
I was still two blocks away from the stadium as I walked and I knew that all the best protesters would be right by the stadium, so I turned the corner to head that way, and then, stopped. To get closer than two blocks, not even inside, you needed a ticket. Seeing no protestors at my first vantage point, I walked another block, then another, then another around most of the allowable perimeter, and no where did I find anything but cheerful police thankful for a day of overtime pay, good weather and no protests.
No where did I find people with signs about the priest pedophile scandal. No women asking for the right to choose or gay people the right to be seen as children of God, to love and create families as they were created. No women campaigning to be priests. Just a few thousand Americans going about their day happy to greet their spiritual leader and spend a few hours together in contemplation of their spiritual lives, something deeply personal to each of us no matter our beliefs. The closest thing to protest was, you guessed it, people pushing "Defend Life" bumperstickers with an over the top aggressive zeal that seemed odd, even with the Pope in town, in the midst of such a relaxed and joyful morning. It was interesting how few of the faithful took the stickers, instead walking by, saying nothing, or no thank you.
Then it struck me, in the midst of this glorious moment, how sad it is that the very same respect surrounding this event, evidenced by the somewhat surprising lack of protest, is not extended by the more radical elements within the Catholic Church to women, gays, and victims of priestly abuse.
Go to a women's clinic, for any reason including a pap smear or birth control, you get protested. Go to many a local pharmacy for contraception, and the all powerful pharmacist becomes a protest of one. Go to certain hospitals after being raped, looking for compassion in the form of emergency contraception, and your request will meet with protest. Try to take communion or serve as an openly gay person, as did Fr. Mychal Judge in the midst of disaster on Septemeber 11, 2001, before giving his life, and you'll be protested, or worse, completely rejected. If you're a woman, don't even try to be a priest, an entire patriarchy of protest is arrayed against you.
Nope, today in Washington there were no visible protests by progressives anywhere near the Mass at Nationals' Stadium as people entered, though there have been a scant few along the Pope-mobile's route througout the city. It's been tough though, the Pope's route on "public" streets in and around Catholic University required a ticket for several blocks just to watch him drive by. Most efforts seem to assure he'll see only cheering crowds, reinforcing his notion that everyone agrees with him. Today, pluralism and democracy (of sorts) flourished together within sight of U.S. Capitol Dome. Isn't it a shame all Americans don't enjoy the same level of respect, regardless of what they believe, how they worship, who they are, where they get health care services, or how they live their love?

No ticket? This is as close as you can get on public streets to the Papal Mass.

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