John Paul II came as a pastor to visit his Catholic flock and to
celebrate with them their shared faith. It was a fatherly, friendly
and pastoral visit, not a polemical foray. A press poll found the
pope's favorite themes unpopular and drew attention to the fact
that, though people love and admire him, most disagree with his
teachings on abortion, the morality of sexuality and marriage, women
in the Church and clerical celibacy.
In spite of this considerable resistance to his message, his enormous
personal popularity was confirmed by enthusiastic crowds which greeted
him at every stop, some of them standing for hours in the rain and
mud for the privilege of attending his Mass.
Youth Love Him
On the night of September 11, 1984, in a magnificent spectacle at
Montreal's Olympic Stadium with a near-capacity crowd of 55,000,
two thousand dancers and actors staged stunning tableaux dramatizing
the battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
The Holy Father spoke in response to 7,000 letters sent to him in
Rome by young people from Quebec. And he expressed their thoughts
in terms of the struggle between light and darkness. His marvelous
rapport with young people moved a teenage boy, watching him with
binoculars, to say, "Watch him. Watch him. Isn't he beautiful?"
The pope said to the youth, "In regard to the dark side of
your questions, I would like to say to you: Stand erect and hold
your heads high, for your deliverance is at hand.
"In times of darkness, do not seek an escape. Have the courage
to resist the dealers in deception who make capital of your hunger
for happiness and who make you pay dearly for a moment of artificial
paradise—a whiff of smoke, a bout of drinking or drugs."
He spoke of a problem many of those 7,000 letters had broached:
the pain youth feel through the breakdown of family life. He urged
them, "Do not doubt; you can build a home on the rock of fidelity,
because you can count totally on the fidelity of God who is love."
And he warned them against premarital sex, saying, "React against
false illusions and do not confuse a premature experience of pleasure
with the giving of oneself in love, deliberately consented to, and
The sight of 55,000 young people, most of them in their teens, listening
to a sermon was itself some kind of miracle. And they punctuated
their listening with cheers that rose like a roar from 55,000 throats.
They waved in unison 55,000 white scarves. It was a magnificent
encounter. The pope had bridged the gap. He held them in the palm
of his hand.
With Native Peoples in the North
Not once, but on three separate occasions Pope John Paul II devoted
talks to social justice for the Indian, Inuit (Eskimo) and Meti
(half-breed) peoples. These talks were orchestrated to climax at
Fort Simpson. Though he never made it to Fort Simpson, he delivered
his speech in the office of the airport manager at Yellowknife,
before a camera and a tape recorder.
At St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec he shocked the native people with
his frank admission of blunders on the part of the Church in dealing
with them in the past. He may have been alluding to the collusion
of clergy with the government in coercing native peoples to sign
At Midland in Ontario, he encouraged the integration of ancient
native religious ceremonies into Christian worship, quoting Catechesi
Tradendae, which indicated the Church's desire to assist all
people "to bring forth from their own living tradition original
expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought." He
suited action to word and took part in one such ceremony, the sweetgrass
ceremony of purification where smoke is seen as a ritual cleansing.
In Yellowknife he spoke out clearly for native self-determination.
But he set this in the context of Christian love, calling for a
healing of old wounds, forgiveness and responsibility. He called
on native people to work together with others for the common good
of Canada. He gave the aboriginals a strong moral hand to play when
they next sit down to negotiate their future.
A Matter of Heart
In his farewell address he said, "We have celebrated together,
we have prayed to the Lord, we have been in communion with him,
we have listened to his word....I cannot speak now of all that I
will keep in my heart; that goes beyond what can be expressed in
a few words."
Said Archbishop James Carney of Vancouver, "Your journey has
taken you longer than you know. It has taken you past geography
right in to our hearts."