Papal Visit Puts Focus on Denver, Catholic Rifts POPE JOHN PAUL II

Article excerpt

MCDONALD'S restaurants have ordered enough quarter pounders to stretch 15 miles end-to-end. Manhole covers have been welded shut as a security precaution. Stores are doing a brisk business in "pope scopes" - cardboard viewing devices.

Local leaders are preening for the arrival of a pope and a president Aug. 12. The arrival of Pope John Paul II for a world-youth conclave, and his brief meeting with President Clinton, will give an economic and civic boost to a state whose most familiar headline the past year has been turmoil over an anti-gay-rights law. It will also give the Roman Catholic Church a chance to reach out to a generation not always enchanted with Vatican pronouncements and doctrine.

But behind all the politics and papal pageantry also loom sensitive issues that will garner klieg-light attention. Denver is struggling to cope with an outbreak of youth violence, while the Catholic Church faces serious rifts over issues from abortion to the role of women in the church.

"We aren't protesting his coming," says Tom Kerwin, a Denver lawyer and member of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a coalition unhappy about the direction of the church. The group is planning to stage "alternative events" this week. "We just feel an obligation to educate the bishops about what the church is all about."

Some 170,000 people between the ages of 13 and 19 are expected to attend World Youth Day. This meeting starts Aug. 11 and ends Aug. 15, when the pope is to celebrate an outdoor mass before up to 500,000 people, the largest gathering in Colorado history.

Among Catholics and civic leaders there is a giddiness over the first papal visit and the recognition it brings a city always eager to show it has graduated from cowtown to urban sophisticate.

Billboards, banners, and bunting welcome the pope. Papal mugs, ties, and T-shirts are selling like tickets to the Rockies' baseball games. Newspapers have been charting every conceivable angle of the visit, and a few more, down to the food the pope eats. Indeed, the other visitor of the week, President Clinton, has become almost an asterisk.

"It's just like he's another politician coming to town, " says Floyd Ciruli, a Denver pollster.

The chamber of commerce estimates the gathering will pump $161 million into the local economy, the most ever for a single event. Yet there will also be costs: More than $1.2 million for extra fire, transportation, and safety services. …

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