In his 2001 essay, “From Sabbath Proscriptions to Super Sunday Celebrations: Sports and Religion in America,” Joseph L. Price examines the similarity between religious ritual and sports fandom. Price is especially interested in the parallels between religious spaces and ballparks, noting that baseball stadiums often resemble churches, mosques and cathedrals in their setups. Price even discusses how masses are occasionally celebrated in the sacred halls of America’s pastime. Something tells me that Hall is having a field day (pun totally intended) with the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s mass at Yankee Stadium.
Both the Daily News and Post pull out all the stops with this final day of papal visit coverage, each featuring a wrap dedicated to the final day of Benedict’s visit, where the pontiff celebrated mass in the Bronx and visited Ground Zero, a first for the pope.
The coverage oscillates between celebratory and solemn, depending on the locale. The Yankee Stadium coverage is all about pure joy and devotion, while the Ground Zero coverage concentrates on loss and healing. It’s a trope we’ve seen before: the use of “solemn,” “touching” and “intimate” to describe the ceremony. We get the 9/11 hero kissing the ring of the Holy Father, who talks to the Post about his audience with the pope. John McLoughlin, who was portrayed by Nicholas Cage in the film World Trade Center, had grand plans for his moment with the pontiff:
“I was going to say that in a place where I almost died, it was my faith in God and my family that got me through it, and that he understands what it meant to me.”
Instead, a speechless McLoughlin said nothing.
The Yankee Stadium coverage reads much more like a sports story than hard news or religious coverage. Both papers talk about the masses milling outside in search of extra tickets, which makes the pope’s appearance not unlike a playoff game. We hear about the orderly communion service, in which 500 priests were dispatched around the ballpark to give communion in a scant 25 minutes.
The other sports parallel is that both papers chose to include “man on the street” interviews with folks in Bronx sports bars who were drinking beers and watching the ceremony. Again, this reads like coverage of a big ball game. Props go to the Post for its puntastic headline, “BEN’S SERMON ON THE MOUND.”
Finally, there’s sad news to report in relation to the pope’s NYC visit. Denny, the beaver found floating in the East River on Friday, has died. He was found by harbor cops patrolling the river for the pope’s visit. The headline? “Dam! Beaver dies.”
And with that, we conclude the coverage of the pontiff’s first visit to the Big Apple. If you’ve been to a Catholic wedding, you know these things go on for a while.