I love the "construction phase" of liturgy and great ceremony. Waiting at the John Paul II Cultural Center for Pope Benedict to arrive for a meeting with interreligious leaders, I took a quick tour through some of the artwork. I was especially impressed by the wacky Warhol print of John Paul II. Also, through the atrium windows I could see a 25-yard-long brightly colored creation laid out on the floor by Guatemalan artists to welcome the pope and wish him peace. It appears to be made of brightly colored sawdust and colored rice-like a Tibetan sand painting.
Up in the press balcony I had a bird's-eye view of staff giving the golden guest chairs a final dusting and arranging the signage labeled "Papal Entourage." The sacred music ensemble (called, and I'm not kidding, The Suspicious Cheese Lords) ran through their harmonies both for the sung version of the Prayer of St. Francis and the Muslim evening prayer.
A watchful secret service agent kept guard next to the Papal Chair. Empty. Simple. Waiting. Cardinals and bishops adjusted their various colored birettas. Up the sidewalk came representatives from the rich tapestry of religions that call America home. Saffron robes, silk saris, yarmulkes and keffiyehs, turbans and khimar -- I'm reminded how unusual this sight is in too many places around the world.
Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.