Pope John Paul II visits St. Louis Missouri

The Pope Visits Middle America

by John Bookser Feister

    On Tuesday, January 26, 1999, Pope John Paul II will arrive for a two-day visit in St. Louis, Missouri, a city once known as the "Rome of the West." Hundreds of years ago, when French explorers first travelled the Mississippi River seeking their fortunes, they never dreamed that one day a pope would gather millions of people in a city that grew out of their settlement. These explorers of the vast Louisiana region brought their French names and their Catholic faith with them. That faith would endure long after the French sold the vast expanse to the new American nation.

    In 1834 the people of young St. Louis built the first cathedral west of the Mississippi. From this episcopal see would be formed 45 others, including the archdioceses of Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Paul, Dubuque, Denver, Omaha, Kansas City (Kansas), and Oklahoma City. As the city grew, its Catholic population grew, too. Though not the largest U.S. diocese today, St. Louis maintains a place of honor among Catholics in America. The archdiocese celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1997.

    Pope John Paul II is coming to St. Louis for a simple pastoral visit. Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, who invited the Holy Father, explained the invitation to American Catholic Online during a recent conversation: "There's no reason other than the fact that the Holy Father will be nearby, in Mexico City, and he has never been to St. Louis, a large American archdiocese."

    Archbishop Rigali, known as a friend of Pope John Paul II from Rigali's years of service in the Roman Curia, explained that there is no official connection between the pope's visit to St. Louis and his delivery in Mexico City of the concluding paper for 1997's Synod for America, held in Vatican City.

    The pope will find in St. Louis a city brimming with activity and preparation for an enormous event. Over 2,300 journalists will be there watching and reporting his every move, analyzing his speeches and sharing this historic event with the world. Highlights will include a welcome by President William Clinton and farewell by Vice-president Albert Gore, an enormous youth rally on Tuesday, a prayer service at St. Louis's cathedral and a much larger Mass at Trans World Dome.

    American Catholic Online will be among the credentialed media during the visits. On this site you'll find simple entries summing up some events from each day, and links to places where you can find more information, including the extensive official papal visit Web site created by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

    John Bookser Feister is editor of American Catholic Online. His full report on the papal visit will appear in the April edition of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

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