Arizona lawmakers see mixed demand for tickets to watch pope’s speech

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the gift shop is stocked with Pope Francis souvenirs in preparation for the pope’s visit to Washington. (Photo by Tom Blanton)

Tickets to attend Pope Francis’ Mass at the shrine are long gone, but some Arizona lawmakers say they have had scant demand for tickets to see the pope’s speech to Congress. (Photo by Tom Blanton)

WASHINGTON – When Pope Francis gives a historic address to Congress next week, up to 50,000 people could be standing in a ticketed area of the West Front of the Capitol to watch the speech on large TV screens.

Not as many of them will be Arizonans, however, as could be.

Every member of Congress was given West Front tickets to distribute, but demand for those passes has varied by district in Arizona. Some lawmakers reported getting few requests, while others had to hold lotteries to handle the overflow of demand.

“We got tons of requests,” said Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson. “But we were only given 50 tickets.”

Every House member got 50 passes to distribute as they saw fit, while senators were allotted 200 tickets, according to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office.

McSally received more than twice as many requests from constituents as she had tickets to hand out, Ptak said. Those who got tickets then had to make the tough decision about whether to travel all the way to Washington for the event.

“We held a lottery and now we’re kind of going through the list and seeing who is still interested,” Ptak said. “Of all the addresses to Congress, this has by far gotten the most attention.”

Organizers said this week that they expect hundreds of thousands on the Mall when the pope addresses Congress. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said “up to a million people” are expected to be in Washington for the pope’s visit.

Grijalva said his office saw a high demand for tickets and was also forced to hold a drawing. But he is not surprised.

“It’s a historic date,” Grijalva said. “His (the pope’s) words are going to be very important.”

More than 1.4 million Arizonans identify as Catholics, or 21 percent of the state’s population, according to Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. But any Catholics who live in the 8th District had not exactly been lighting up the phone line to Rep. Trent Franks’ office asking for tickets as of earlier this week.

“We have had some interest in tickets, but it has not been overwhelming,” said Jessica Cahill, an aide to Franks. Cahill said in an email that the Glendale Republican’s office had only received about 20 ticket request by the end of last week.

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Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, and Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, also had tickets still available, their offices said this week.

The speech to Congress is not Pope Francis’ only stop in Washington: The pope will be visiting parishes in the area and will be hosted by President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the White House, where the guest list will include Gov. Doug Ducey, a lifelong Catholic, and his wife.

One of the hottest tickets in town for Catholics may be the Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the pope will bestow sainthood on Junipero Serra, the first canonization on U.S. soil.

“There are 25,000 seats for the Mass,” said a volunteer with the Archdiocese of Washington, who identified herself as Sister Faithful.

Arizona residents still looking to fill some of those seats are probably out of luck.

“The Archdiocese (of Washington) gave all the tickets to parishes around the area,” Sister Faithful said. “There haven’t been any available for awhile.”

But Arizonans without tickets to the Capitol event shouldn’t yet lose faith.

“We still have plenty of tickets left,” a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said earlier this week. “Send them our way.”

– Cronkite News reporter Charles McConnell contributed to this report.