The nearly 14-foot-tall crucifix from      St. Mark's Church in Hyattsville will be used at Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park, as part of the sanctuary that will be              constructed at the ballpark's centerfield.
The nearly 14-foot-tall crucifix from St. Mark's Church in Hyattsville will be used at Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park, as part of the sanctuary that will be constructed at the ballpark's centerfield.
The crucifix from St. Mark's Church in Hyattsville has been selected to form the backdrop for the April 17 Mass Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate at Nationals Park.

The nearly 14-foot tall crucifix will be part of the sanctuary constructed at the ballpark's center field for the Mass.

"The Archdiocese of Washington undertook a search for a crucifix that would be large enough to be in scale with the 50-foot-square sanctuary and also moveable," said Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

The cross, made of walnut, was installed when the parish constructed a new church in 1999. It is suspended with airplane cable.

"This is an honor for our parish, to have the cross that hangs over our altar to hang over the altar during the Mass that Pope Benedict will be celebrating," said Father John McKay, pastor of St. Mark's, which serves an English- and Spanish-speaking bilingual community. "When I announced it this past week, the parishioners greeted the news with applause."

The crucifix will be removed from the church on April 14 and returned on April 18.

Father McKay noted that this year the parish is celebrating its 50th anni-versary and will celebrate an anniversary Mass - with crucifix in place - the week after the pope leaves.

"We are just so very honored, and we think this is very special," Father McKay said. "We are going to put a plaque on the cross to commemorate its use by the pope, and we are going to install a plaque in a more prominent place (in the church)."

The crucifix will be part of the sanctuary designed by two Catholic University of America students.

John-Paul Mikolajczyk and Ryan Mullen, graduate students in CUA's School of Architecture and Planning, designed the altar and chair, as well as a pulpit and a lectern for the papal Mass as part of a competition jointly sponsored by the Arch-diocese of Washington and the university's architecture and planning school.

Their designs were chosen last month from a field of 21 entrants in the competition.

Mikolajczyk and Mullen designed a 10-foot-by-4-foot altar with a substantial top, a repeating pattern of decorative arches beneath it and a smaller base. The front of the pulpit - also called an ambo - is adorned with images of the Bible and the Holy Trinity. The tall chair back is decorated with Pope Benedict's papal coat of arms.

Originally, Mass organizers were going to set up the sanctuary at the stadium's second base.

By moving the altar to center field, an additional 4,000 people can attend the Mass. More than 45,000 seats will be available for the Mass.

Ticket distribution for the Mass is expected to be announced by the Arch-diocese of Washington later this month.