Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI To Wear Number 42 At Sunday Mass

This Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. To honor Robinson’s historic accomplishment, players around the league will wear his number 42 during Sunday’s games. However, the tributes will extend well beyond America’s ballparks. A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed that His Holiness will wear the number 42 while performing Sunday mass.

MLB has been widely praised for Sunday’s high-profile gesture, and the pope’s support is certain to delight commissioner Bud Selig. The pontiff’s participation is appropriate when you consider that the tribute was suggested to Selig by Ken Griffey, Jr. As leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict XVI is dedicated to worshipping another Junior who performed amazing feats but is usually seen in an injured position. The mass will also celebrate – one day in advance – the 80th birthday of the pope, who played minor league ball with Julio Franco.

The announcement came as a surprise to many. Skeptics did not expect a Dodger to be honored by someone who consistently aligns himself with the Cardinals. They also scoffed that a two-time National League stolen bases leader would be praised by a man who implores “Thou shalt not steal.” Additionally, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award as a first baseman, but he played most of his career at second base. The Vatican is famously unyielding when it comes to changing positions.

However, the major leagues did have someone called “The Pope” – Paul Owens, general manager of the Phillies from 1972 to 1984. Also, there is precedent for a pontiff to honor a deceased athlete during services in St. Peter’s Square. After Wilt Chamberlain’s death in 1999, John Paul II conducted mass in a Philadelphia Warriors throwback jersey.

Born in Germany as Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope shares the same initials as Jackie Robinson. They both became something that seemed impossible when they were children: a non-white major leaguer, and a non-Italian pope. The two men also have direct experience with infallibility, albeit on opposite sides. His Holiness enjoys papal infallibility, whereas Robinson was frustrated by Don Larsen infallibility.

Worshippers will be eager to witness Sunday’s unique appearance of the pope in St. Peter’s Square, temporarily called St. Peter’s Diamond. Since he will be in the midst of Rome, the 42 on the back of his papal attire will actually read “XLII.” Instead of the traditional mitre on his head, Benedict XVI will sport a Brooklyn Dodgers cap. Also, the Ring of the Fisherman will be replaced on his finger by a 1955 World Series ring.

The mass itself will incorporate numerous details to pay tribute to Robinson. Instead of Scripture, Benedict XVI will read passages from Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer. During communion, the chosen hymn will be “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” with participants receiving peanuts and Cracker Jack. Also, the pope will be flanked by signs which read “God Is Love” and “No Pepper Allowed.”

35 years after his death, the man who so honorably wore number 42 will continue to serve as an inspiration. Benedict XVI will fondly remember Jackie Robinson as he stands in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The massive domed structure is sure to put another baseball thought into his head: “The Indians could have used this place last week!”