Pope John Paul II: Memories to Cherish

October 1979

The Pope in America—First Papal Visit

by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

St. Anthony Messenger
December 1979

October 1, Boston Commons

"The Pope Is Your Friend"

From early morning, gray clouds hung low over Boston Commons, the famed public park in the center of America's most Catholic city. All day, I watched the Commons fill up with thousands upon thousands of people who assembled before the newly constructed altar, where the pope was to say Mass in the late afternoon.

A large outdoor TV screen had been set up in the press section, and when the pope arrived at Boston's Logan International Airport, I could catch glimpses of First Lady Rosalynn Carter welcoming him. I watched his motorcade proceed to Holy Name Cathedral, where he stopped before coming to the Commons.

Excitement was mounting all over the park, and it was beginning to rain. I heard the distant roar of the police motorcycles leading the motorcade. Enthusiasm shot through the crowd like electricity. Now I could see the flashing blue lights of the motorcycles. Some sections of the crowd could already see the pope and were cheering wildly.

The whirling sound of a helicopter drew my eyes up through the rain into the skies. The police helicopter was apparently hovering over the pope's car. The pope finally appeared waving and smiling, and the crowd broke into wild and sustained cheers of welcome.

After vesting for Mass, Pope John Paul II appeared on the altar for his first papal Mass in this country. ''I want to greet all Americans without distinction," he told the immense umbrella-dotted crowd. "I want to tell everyone that the pope is your friend and a servant of your humanity."

The roar of the crowd indicated that Americans would certainly regard him in the friendliest way possible.

October 2, The United Nations

"A Plea for a More Just World Order"

The next morning, I stood near the gates of the U.N., where the pope's motorcade would enter. Across First Avenue the crowds were chanting "Long live the pope!" and breaking into a variety of songs. Policemen were everywhere. Secret Service men stood on building tops.

As the pope's broad and serenely smiling face appeared, the crowd was delirious.

John Paul II came to the United Nations to fulfill the primary purpose of his whole journey—to make a plea for peace and a more just world order. His was an uplifting message that was to inspire the world.

"It is no secret that the abyss separating the minority of the excessively rich from the multitude of the destitute is a very grave symptom in the life of any society," he told the assembly. "This must also be said with even greater insistence with regard to the abyss separating countries and regions of the earth. Surely the only way to overcome this serious disparity between areas of satiety and areas of hunger and depression is through coordinated cooperation by all countries. This requires above all else a unity inspired by an authentic perspective of peace."

October 4, Philadelphia

"The Priesthood Is to Be Permanent, Celibate and Male"

The morning after a million people attended an exultant outdoor Mass at Philadelphia's Logan Circle, I was among the thousands of priests, seminarians and nuns gathered at the city's Civic Center. In a historic address, John Paul reaffirmed the priestly role as a permanent, celibate state not open to women.

The sheer intensity of the tumultuous 10-minute standing ovation that followed the pontiff's address was indescribable—and deafening. I found out later that several priests, conscious of the pain many women would feel because of the pope's remarks, restrained from applauding. And a priest next to me said he considered it "insensitive" that a number of priests had even applauded at the very point of the address that dashed the hopes of some of their Christian sisters by stating that the Church will not call women to the priesthood.

Yet the extraordinary applause at the end of the pope's address left no doubt in my mind that the overall consensus of those present was that of total support of the pope.

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