Pope John Paul II visits St. Louis Missouri

Monday: Day of Preparation

by John Bookser Feister

    Today was the final day of preparation in St. Louis, a city literally abuzz with anticipation of the Holy Father's arrival tomorrow. Banners announcing the papal visit have adorned lampposts since before Christmas, announcing the theme of this pastoral visit, taken from the pope's encyclical, The Coming Third Millennium: "...to ensure that power of salvation may be shared by all."

    Flashing road signs announce that there will be no parking on city streets Tuesday and Wednesday--security is an enormous concern with the presence of the pope, the president and the vice-president all coming and going within a 30-hour period. There will be delays at the airport, traffic will be a nightmare, many downtown companies are making plans to allow people to work from home by computer if possible.

    One determined stockbroker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "`The pope is the pope, but capitalism is going to rule." By contrast, there are enormous blue banners hanging from downtown banks with the exclamations so often taken up by papal fan crowds: "John Paul II, We Love You!" Given the tenor of his message to the Americas delivered in Mexico City during the past four days, the pope will likely have some words to say about the proper role of capitalism.

    Workers at the Trans World dome are frantically dismantling an automotive trade show even as others are bringing in supplies for what might be the nation's biggest-ever indoor gathering Wednesday. One vendor reported hauling in 250 dozen muffins and 200 dozen bagels: "I'll be happy if I sell it all," he says. "You can either make a lot of money or lose a lot of money."

    The area in front of Kiel Center, site of tomorrow's "Light of the World" youth rally, has been transformed into "Papal Plaza." Sidewalks are cordoned off to make way for vendors, delivery people, pilgrims, bands, stage crews, diocesan event organizers and countless satellite trucks.

    The Papal Plaza, a large grassy mall area, is expected to be filled with 100,000 young people all day tomorrow. They will listen to Christian rock bands and youth testimonials amplified by sound equipment equal to any outdoor concert. On several huge jumbotron screens they will watch the pope's arrival, meeting with the president, and popemobile motorcade across St. Louis.

    It will be a huge party, agrees Steve Allgeyer, director of the Papal Plaza events for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. But he sees more: "I think there will be a great renewing of the faith," he tells American Catholic Online. "This is a great opportunity for them to really see and feel the tradition, to experience the wonderful people that are gong to speak to them about their Catholic beliefs and also just to find out that loving Christ and following Christ is the fullest way to live."

    Rock drummer Ben Cissel, warming up at the Plaza with his nationally known Christian band Audio Adrenaline, speaks for many youth--Catholic or not--who see in the 78-year-old pope someone to aspire to: "Pretty much nobody that walks this earth is as big as the pope," says 23-year-old Cissel. "He's pretty much respected by everybody. He's just got this aura about him. He's just so Christ-like. I've heard people who have met him say that he makes you feel like you're the most important person in the world."

    A younger couple, ninth graders from Union Grove, Texas, express a more simple desire. Patrick Pattersen and Diane Farrow both have worked for months in a "rent-a-kid" jobs program to raise money for their 47-member youth group from St. Therese Parish to travel to St. Louis to see the pope (she baked and did housework; he hauled firewood.) After lighting candles and saying some brief prayers in the old cathedral, just below the Gateway Arch, Patrick comments, "It will be cool to say, 'I actually saw the pope.'" Diane chides him, reminding him that this is an important spiritual event.

    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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