Saturday, April 25, 2015

The last papal visit to Philadelphia: John Paul II in 1979

Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo genuflects as he meets Pope John Paul ll on the Pontiff´s arrival at Philadelphia International Airport on October 9, 1979. Michael Viola / Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo genuflects as he meets Pope John Paul ll on the Pontiff's arrival at Philadelphia International Airport on October 9, 1979. Michael Viola / Philadelphia Inquirer

(This story was first published on October 4, 1979.)

John Paul II passed quickly yesterday - too quickly to satisfy many of the assembled thousands - on his way from International Airport to the Mass he celebrated before hundreds of thousands of persons in beautifully groomed Logan Circle.

 But the remainder of the day was sheer beauty as crowds estimated at between 1.2 and 2 million greeted the Pontiff, cheered his ringing, " God Bless Philadelphia" in the Cathedral-Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and watched as he celebrated Mass.

 Today was to be more of the same as the Pope was to travel in a motorcade from John Cardinal Krol's City Ave. residence to visit two churches in the city before going to Civic Center to celebrate another Mass, this one for priests, seminarians and nuns from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and surrounding dioceses. He was to leave the city at 11 a.m. for Des Moines, Iowa, next stop on his unprecedented week-long U.S. tour that began with stops in Boston and New York and is to end with visits to Chicago and Washington.

 IN ALL, YESTERDAY was a sparkling day for the city, which did itself proud in its arrangements, for Catholics from a wide area who came to see the man they believe to be the Vicar of Christ and for uncounted thousands of people of other religions or no religion at all who were anxious for a close look at a world leader.

 There was also a heaven-sent gift of good weather. Torrential rains during the night had changed to mere clouds during the morning and by midafternoon, before the Pope 's arrival, the day was sunny and remained so.

 Aside from the chagrin in South Philadelphia, the only noticeable discontent was at Logan Circle, where a number of holders of rare silver tickets were denied their seats, apparently because of the presence of hundreds of counterfeit tickets. Despite that headache, an estimated 400,000 jammed the Circle and surrounding streets for the Mass.

 And the Pope proved, as he had in Boston and New York, that he is a charmer and crowd pleaser of the first magnitude.

 Ever smiling, ever waving, he personified the man set apart who makes all who see him think he is one of them.

 IN HIS ADDRESS at the cathedral and in his sermon at the Logan Circle Mass, John Paul spoke the conservative, straightforward Christian doctrine he has stressed since his arrival in this country -- an urging for "the preservation of all the human and Christian values that are the heritage of this land, this country and this very city."

 But if the messages were somewhat on the stern side, the Pontiff's delivery -- even in heavily accented English -- and his obvious friendliness still won him complete attention and warm response.

 "I feel . . . that I am truly among friends, and I feel very much at home in your midst," he said in his cathedral address, which he ended with the exhortation, "God Bless Philadelphia."

 The Pope 's arrival at the airport was slightly more than an hour behind the scheduled 2 p.m., partly because stormy weather had delayed the takeoff of his plane from New York.

 And the Pontiff was still an hour or so behind schedule -- and noticeably weary -- when he left St. Charles Borromeo Seminary shortly after 10:30 p.m. for a short ride to Cardinal Krol's residence and a none-too-long sleep.

 MAYOR RIZZO, HIS wife, Carmella; Gov. Thornburgh and Cardinal Krol were the principal luminaries in the crowd of several thousand on hand as the Pope 's sparkling white plane -- a TWA 727 jet dubbed Shepherd One for the occasion - -touched down at International Airport about 3:05 p.m.

 Cardinal Krol, a longtime friend of the Pope and a native of the same area in Poland from which John Paul hails, boarded the plane to greet the distinguished guest and, moments later, alighted with him.

 Rizzo, who appeared to snap to attention as the Pope emerged, genuflected on his right knee and bent to kiss the Pope 's ring. Mrs. Rizzo bowed over and also kissed the ring. Thornburgh shook the Pontiff's hand.

 When the Pontiff appeared, a choir of 2,000 students from the Archdiocese's 309 elementary schools -- they had been chosen by classroom drawings -- sang "Long Live the Pope" as the flashily garbed bands from Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Delaware County) and Bishop Kenrick (Norristown) High schools supplied the music.

 But the welcome's big feature was a card display by 750 Cardinal O'Hara freshmen. After a few practice runs before the Pope's arrival, they performed with snappy precision, holding up cards that spelled out, in English, "Philadelphia Welcomes His Holiness John Paul II, With Our Love," then turning them over to present the same greeting in Polish.

 AFTER HIS WELCOME from the mayor and governor, the Pope shook hands with the Archdiocese's four auxiliary bishops, the Most Revs. Gerald V. McDevitt, John J. Graham, Martin N. Lohmuller and Edward Hughes.

 After receiving floral bouquets from the drum majors of the two bands -- and giving them rosary beads in return -- the Pope was to have entered his open-topped limousine to begin his ride into Center City.

 But he spotted a group of youngsters -- third- to sixth-graders -- from St. Cyril of Alexandria's School in East Lansdowne and headed for them, smiling and holding his arms aloft.

 "He came right into our kids," one of their nuns reported. "One of our girls kissed his ring."

 The girl was Margie Thompson, 11, who reported, "He said, 'God bless you.'"

 JOHN EURY, ALSO 11, said he, too, had kissed the Pontiff's ring. "I shook his hand," said 10- year-old Greg Manfre.

 Finally in his car, the Pope began his tour of the city. Past airport construction workers with their sign, "Hardhats Welcome Pope John Paul II," past about 2,500 watchers by a Strawbridge & Clothier's warehouse on Island Rd., past hundreds of others behind the ubiquitous yellow police barricades, the motorcade moved briskly -- as scheduled -- to Broad St.

 But there, instead of slowing down, the motorcade continued at speed, past crowds that were six deep in the Oregon Ave. area and successively bigger as the Pope moved north toward City Hall. Residents, pupils from the many Catholic elementary and high schools in the district, organized groups of parishioners and the just-plain-curious caught only a fleeting glimpse of the white-robed John Paul.

 In midcity, the throngs were deeply packed from curb to building line as the cars in the motorcade -- most of them provided by local funeral directors -- moved counter to the usual traffic pattern to go to the west side of City Hall and then up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway toward the cathedral.

 On his arrival, the Pontiff climbed a few steps toward the cathedral's great bronze doors, thrown open for him, then turned to face toward the altar and the huge throngs that surrounded it and that filled the broad expanse of the Parkway and several smaller side streets. It was a sight no one had ever seen in Philadelphia before - a huge and utterly happy throng shouting its greeting and its joy.

 INSIDE ABOUT 2,000 gold ticket holders heard Cardinal Krol welcome "our Supreme Shepherd and Pastor" and heard the Pope respond to "my brother Cardinal" and "dear brothers and sisters in Christ."

 Minutes after the ceremony ended, as the vast cathedral was still emptying, the Pope emerged from the rectory at the Race St. side, where his limousine was waiting. But, in another departure from the program, the Pope spurned the car and instead turned to walk to the Parkway and the long block to the Logan Circle altar. A retinue of priests and a swarm of Secret Service men accompanied him.

 Ripples of applause and cheers followed him as he moved, but none of it was thunderous, the crowd seemingly more interested in seeing the man and waving to him than in making noise.

 After climbing the 57 steps to the altar level, the Pope, again departing from the script, walked around the platform's rim, his arms aloft in the now-familiar posture, his smile warm, his endurance apparently boundless. Again, cheers, but no thunder.

 The Mass itself proceeded briskly, even with the Pope 's half-hour sermon. The Archdiocesan Choir, the Boy Choir, the Seminary Choir and the cathedral's Collegiate Choir provided the music, beginning with "Faith of Our Fathers" and ending with the rousing "Holy God We Praise Thy Name."

 THE POPE HIMSELF was the principal celebrant of the Mass -- the Catholic recreation of the Last Supper, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. A number of priests and prelates were concelebrants and close to a hundred other clergy -- including a number of Cardinals and bishops -- sat in chairs ringing the white platform at a level below the altar.

 As John Paul distributed Communion to 150 specially selected members of the Archdiocese -- a cross-section of ages, ethnic groups and economic levels -- some 3,000 priests moved into the crowd and also distributed the Sacred Host to whomever they could reach.

 At the most solemn point in the Mass -- the Consecration, when Catholics believe bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ -- the huge throng was almost unbelievably quiet, the hush as deep as if they were actually inside a church.

 After Mass -- and another Papal walk around the platform's rim -- the Pope was driven, still standing for most of the journey, to the Cardinal's home on City Ave. After a short stop for dinner, he was off again for the crowded day's last event, a visit to the 170 seminarians in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

 Here, for the first time, the Pope received a European-style welcome -- wild cheers, stomping feet, unbridled enthusiasm. And the obviously delighted Pope seemed to urge on the young men to more and more cheering. Finally quieted, they heard the Pope tell them how anxious he'd been to visit an American
 seminary, how grateful he was to them and how he believed in the traditional celibacy for priests.

 Finally, then, he was weary and showed his fatigue as he left to return to Cardinal Krol's residence for the night.

 But even as the Pope slept through the morning hours, hundreds of the faithful were congregating at two visits scheduled for early this morning.

 Shortly after 3:30 a.m. today more than 400 persons were gathered before the shrine of St. John Neumann, 5th St. and Girard Ave., all with white admission tickets clutched in their hands, as they awaited the Pope's 8 a.m. visit.

 At the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 816 Franklin St., the white tickets were much in evidence where more than 200 persons waited to join with Pope John Paul II when he arrived to join them in prayer.

Daily News Staff Writer
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