Just after 8:30 a.m.,they got one – four,actually – when Alecia Maniatis offered them exactly the number of tickets they needed to attend Pope Benedict XVI's first public Mass in the U.S.
“We had a beautiful seat,” said Fonner,41,of Aurora,Ill.,wiping tears from her eyes and gesturing to the screen on which they planned to watch the Mass from the street. “But this is wonderful.”
Maniatis,31,attended with a group from George Washington University. When four students didn't show up,she gave the tickets to Fonner,her mother and her two sisters.
“I just saw them sitting there praying a rosary,” Maniatis explained as she joined the throngs pushing toward security checkpoints.
Fonner said the huge crowd symbolized the strength of faith in America.
“The media loves to tell you that faith is gone,” she said,”but here you go.”
Some came dressed in their Sunday best,others in T-shirts and jeans,and many were excited by the pope's presence in the District even before they entered the stadium.
Dan Prochaska,25,of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at Colorado State University,also had high spirits,despite having to arrive at Nationals Stadium several hours before the 10 a.m. Mass began.
“It's going to be wonderful to celebrate Mass with 40,000 of our closest friends,” he said with a laugh.
Kaylene Lyons,15,of Rockville,Md.,said she expected the Mass to be one of the biggest events in her life.
Her sister Casey,18,said she was honored just to be there.
“It's so rare you get this opportunity to hear about our faith from the source,” she said.
Marcia Vogin,73,a church organist from Olney,Md.,was enjoying that opportunity for the second time,having seen Pope John Paul II when he came to D.C. three decades ago.
The crowd this time seemed livelier and included more young people,she said.
Among them was Clark Miller,21,a student at Howard Community College in Columbia,Md.,who admitted to behaving better because the pontiff was in town.
“I hope people come to the Mass and experience Christ,” Miller said as he waited to enter the stadium. “I like Pope Benedict. He's a cool guy. Hopefully,they take away more from the Mass than his message.”
Those who did not have tickets watched on a video screen in the street as the pontiff offered a message of hope and cooperation that spoke specifically to American concerns.
Susana Garcia,48,who originally is from Mexico but lives in Cary,N.C.,was elated to have a ticket to hear the homily. The pope's references to the role of Latinos in the church,along with the singing of world-renowned tenor Placido Domingo,especially impressed her.
“For us as Hispanics,” she said,”it made me feel welcome.”
Equally impressive to Vince Petruccelli,a freshman at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney,Md.,was the spectacle that came along with the crowd.
“They just fill this stadium to see this old guy – it's amazing,” said Petruccelli,15,adding quickly that his amazement did not overshadow his reverence for the pontiff.
His teacher,Stephen Sanchez,said the Mass brought ancient history to modern life.
“For me,to see the pope is to see [the apostle] Peter,the Church as it passes through 2,000 years and arrives at me,” Sanchez said as he and several of his students left the stadium.
By 3 p.m.,Metro recorded 456,812 rides on its trains. Spokesman Steven Taubenkibel estimated 24,000 who attended the Mass passed through the Navy Yard station near the stadium. He said it will be Friday before officials know if the Mass contributed to a record-breaking day.
On Friday,Metro logged the third-highest weekday ridership in its history with about 828,000 rides,he said.
To see more photos of Pope Benedict’s day in Washington,visit this photo gallery.