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The Pope In America: It Was Woo-hoo-woo

31 minute read

A gentle shepherd with a will of steel, John Paul II thrilled the U.S. with a glorious pilgrimage that won hearts—and challenged the nation

“He makes me think that the world and the people in it are not as bad as they seem.”

—Mary Ellen Bickel, a Boston personnel manager

Only the rarest leaders inspire that kind of confidence in the basic goodness of humanity. As he led his triumphant seven-day journey of joy through the U.S., Pope John Paul II confirmed what his earlier tours of Mexico and Poland had intimated: after only a year in office, the Pontiff is emerging as the kind of incandescent leader that the world so hungers for—one who can make people feel that they have been lifted above the drabness of their own lives and show them that they are capable of better emotions, and better deeds, than they may have thought.

He was a man for all seasons, all situations, all faiths, a beguilingly modest superstar of the church. The professional philosopher read the diplomats of the U.N. a closely reasoned intellectual sermon on the importance of human rights and freedom—and offered in contrast the ghastly memory of Auschwitz in his homeland, where an emotional John Paul had prayed last June. The athlete-outdoorsman kept to a schedule that would have stunned many a man of far fewer years than his 59, and he seemed impervious to the driving rains that fell on his motorcades in Boston and Manhattan. The actor (John Paul toured Poland with a school theatrical company before entering the priesthood) displayed a sure command of smile, gesture and wink, even capitalizing on his thick Polish accent to draw a laughing cheer by voicing admiration for Manhattan’s “sky-scroppers.” Then he milked the line a bit, as the laughter and applause rose, and pronounced the word in Polish and Italian. The humanitarian pastor delighted in the happiness of his flock, and he became one with them. Children were his special favorites, and he swept them up lightly in his brawny arms. When a young monsignor from Harlem bent to kiss his ring, John Paul lifted him to his feet and kissed him on both cheeks. The Pope soothingly wiped the sweat from the head of a nervous priest who had been conducting the choir at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In one amazing scene, perhaps as memorable as any that 1979 will offer, John Paul’s hearty baritone voice rumbled “Woo-hoo-woo” over the loudspeaker at Madison Square Garden; he was giving the Polish equivalent of “Wow!” as 19,000 youths rocked the arena with nine minutes of spontaneous, frenzied cheers.

Americans of all beliefs and all backgrounds teetered on tiptoe to get a glimpse of him and roar their approval. Said Billy Graham, a man who knows something about rousing fervor in his audiences: “He’s the most respected religious leader in the world today.” Said President Carter to John Paul at Saturday afternoon’s welcome on the White House lawn: “God blessed America by sending you to us.” The Pope drew enormous crowds: 400,000 for a rainswept Mass on Boston Common, 1 million for a Mass in Philadelphia’s Logan Circle, half a million at Grant Park in Chicago. Not everyone who attended the Pope’s road show was swept up in the emotionalism, but the huge crowds of strangers seemed to become, for at least a little while, a community of friends. They serenaded John Paul with Getting to Know You and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and in New York City they had to be shooed away at midnight so that their singing of the Polish national anthem would not keep him awake.

The warmth inspired by the Pope’s presence poses a conundrum about the man and his views. Although Mexico is largely anticlerical and Poland is Communist, the vast majority of their citizens are Catholics who have been reared from infancy to respect the papacy. But the U.S. is a pluralist, secular, sexually permissive society, and in the past two decades Americans have come to view with suspicion all institutions and authority, social, political or religious.

Even the 50 million American Catholics harbor attitudes that must be deeply disturbing to their Pope. An Associated Press-NBC News poll released on the eve of John Paul’s visit showed that most of the Catholics questioned were rejecting parts of what the church and the Pope were preaching. Of those surveyed, 66% would like the church to approve the use of artificial birth control, 63% believe it is all right for a couple to get a divorce even when children are involved, 53% think that priests should be allowed to marry, 50% even tolerate abortion on demand. Those stands put them in the sharpest opposition to John Paul II, a firmly conservative occupant of the Chair of St. Peter. One indication of his uncompromising views: the austere Pope Paul VI got 32,357 requests from priests to be released from their vows and granted all but 1,033 of them; the warmly human John Paul II has not released one.

That John Paul nonetheless won the hearts—if not yet the minds—of many Americans is partly a tribute to the uniqueness of his office, one that gives him the most imposing pulpit in the world, and very largely a result of his simple humanity. His spontaneous delight in baby kissing, in bantering with crowds, is needed proof that the head of even an enormous and tradition-bound institution can lead with affection and empathy.

There may also be a deeper reason for the reaction to the Pope: in the U.S., as in other wealthy nations, many people, vaguely uneasy about the materialism of their lives, yearn in varying degrees for higher values and are even amenable to some fatherly chiding. John Paul sensed that mood and appealed to it in every one of his U.S. addresses.

This is a Pontiff who does not pontificate, but neither does he budge from any of his stands. In Philadelphia he asserted that he would not permit the ordination of women or married men, saying it is not “traditional.” In Chicago, speaking to American bishops, he dramatically emphasized papal condemnation of birth control, divorce, abortion, extramarital sex and homosexual sex.

But John Paul saved his doctrinal fire primarily for specifically Catholic—indeed clerical—audiences. In the huge crowds, he made only glancing references to many of his most hotly disputed positions and chose instead to concentrate on aspects of the religious message as important as any thou-shalt-not preachments: peace, brotherhood, respect for human rights, the sharing of love. In Harlem he spoke of religious joy, in full knowledge of how seldom that emotion is felt on those mean streets. Said he: “How many people have never known joy? They live in our neighborhoods, they have never met a brother or sister who touched their lives with the love of Jesus.

Again and again he preached against materialism, exhorting the rich to share their wealth with the poor, nationally and internationally, while reminding the poor that God loves the rich too. New York Times Columnist James Reston noted that, with the possible exception of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, John Paul “condemned the moral anarchy, sexual license and material consumerism in this country more than any social critic. Yet somehow, despite his condemnation of our spiritual bewilderment, he has been received here with more applause than any religious or secular leader in the world.”

Part of the explanation, surely, was the fact that John Paul did not speak in tones of condemnation; nor did he threaten God’s vengeance. Rather, he appealed to his audiences to be true to nobler qualities in themselves, telling them in effect you can do better than that, and you know it.

A great deal of the Pope’s message was not specifically Catholic; large chunks of what he said could have been uttered by other Christian leaders. And the Pope appealed quite specifically, and effectively, to members of other faiths; at Battery Park on the lower tip of Manhattan, he addressed the nation’s Jews, saying, “Shalom—peace be with you.” Perhaps partly to aid this ecumenical appeal, he constantly emphasized a humble manner. The contrast with Paul VI, the only other Pope to visit the U.S. (for only 14 hours in 1965, primarily to make a U.N. address), was striking. Paul frequently used the papal “we.” John Paul clearly preferred “I,” and once made “we” sound not imperial but conspiratorial. When those cheering youths delayed his speech in Madison Square Garden, he told them gleefully: “We shall destroy the schedule.”

All this reflects conscious decision and a major development: John Paul, who is perfectly aware of his charisma, is quite deliberately converting the papacy into a personal office, seeking to lead not by the weight of his authority but by the force of personal example of humanity and faith. It is a strategy as radical in its way as some of the Pope’s doctrinal views are conservative, but well adapted to John Paul’s personality and the world’s eagerness for leadership.

As he toured America, the Pope artfully carried out a strategy that he had planned well in advance of leaving the Vatican. Says Jerzy Turowicz, editor in chief of Cracow’s respected Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny and a man who has known Karol Wojtyla for more than 30 years: “He looks at the American church and sees groups talking to each other using different ‘languages.’ They cannot understand each other. He would like to reunite the church. He is for pluralism, but with some limits, so that it does not verge on anarchy. He would like to restore church discipline and obedience and reverence for the institution. Perhaps what he faces is a problem of language, how to express his vision without seeming to take the part of a rigid conservative.”

John Paul certainly made a skillful and impressive try to solve that problem. Said the Rev. Avery Dulles, son of John Foster Dulles and a theologian at Catholic University: “There is no lack of desire for spiritual leadership. But it must be exercised in a personal way. The Pope’s personal style has a good chance of succeeding.” The Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., pastor of Manhattan’s Riverside Church and a leading liberal Protestant clergyman, was reminded by John Paul’s performance of a definition laid down by Phillips Brooks, a spellbinding 19th century Episcopal bishop in Boston. “Preaching,” said Brooks, “is bringing truth through personality.” In the case of John Paul II, man and message have become one. Bishop Daniel Cronin River, Mass., said the Pope was trying to create a sense of “oneness” among the nation’s Catholics. “Here’s a young and vigorous man. He’s real. The way he engenders enthusiasm, it’s as though the Holy Spirit has become visible”

John Paul had visited the U.S. twice before, in 1969 and 1976, and he began demonstrating his familiarity with the U.S and sure touch with its people, almost the moment his Aer Lingus 747 touched down at Logan Airport in Boston after Monday’s flight from Ireland. Rosalynn Carter, acting as her husband’s personal emissary, dressed in black suit and white blouse nervously delivered a graceful welcome: “You have lifted up the eyes of the world to focus on the enduring values of the family, the community, human rights and love for one another ” The Pope kissed the soggy tarmac, planted two kisses on the cheeks of the Rev. Msgr. Charles Finn, at 102 the oldest U S priest, and said he would like to “enter every home, to greet personally every man and woman, to caress every child.” Failing that, he said, “permit me to express my sentiments in the lyrics of your own song,” and then, in his sturdy and serviceable English, quoted from America the Beautiful: “And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”

Some 800 chartered buses had helped to bring an estimated 1 million visitors from all over New England to join 2 million Catholic Bostonians in this most Catholic of American cities to get a glimpse of the Pope. Many seemed not to mind that they got only a quick peek as his motorcade sped by. Whizzing through Dorchester on the way to town, he spotted a 6-ft. sign, hanging from the third floor of the home of Martin and Antania Olesch, that read, “Nie bojcie sie ofworzyc na osciez drzwi chrystusowi” (Don’t be afraid to open the door wide for Christ).

At the 104-year-old Cathedral of the Holy Cross, about 2,000 priests and nuns rocked the rafters with cheers and the choir sang, “Ecce sacerdos magnus” (Behold the great priest). The Pope showed again how thoroughly he had been prepared for his trip by paraphrasing the words of John Winthrop, first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, written aboard the Arabella as the ship approached America in 1630: “We must love one another with a pure heart We must bear one another’s burden.” Said John Paul: “These simple words explain so much of the meaning of life— our life as brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Then John Paul did an utterly characteristic thing. Leaving the cathedral, he turned left at the foot of the altar and headed for the only wheelchair in the church and Jane De Martino, 26 paralyzed as the result of an accident that severed her spinal column. He took her hand, kissed her head, bent close to murmur some words, and placed on her lap a small box inscribed with the words Totus Tuus (Totally Yours) and the papal coat of arms. When she opened the box, she found a rosary of white beads with a gold cross. Said De Martino: “If you had given me the whole world, it wouldn’t have meant so much.” A Boston cop who had been standing beside the chair began to weep. “I’ve got to get back to church,” he said, and he walked away.

In the dimming twilight and rain, John Paul headed for Common, whose history serves as a reminder that Boston was once a center of religious bigotry. Quaker dissenters were hanged there in the 17th century. And while no Catholics suffered that fate, Protestants from Boston’s North South ends staged organized brawls in the 18th century on Nov. 5 to determine which group would light a bonfire and burn the Pope in effigy that night.

Some people waited as long as eleven hours on Boston Common (everywhere in the U.S., John Paul ran late) and were thoroughly drenched. From the fringes of the throng, the brilliantly lit platform and altar looked like an ethereal spaceship radiating warmth. Many people back in the crowd had the strange experience of first listening to cheers for the Pope on their transistor radios and then hearing the actual sound following through the air like an echo. His white hair wet and plastered down John Paul led 300 priests, who waded through ankle-deep mud to hand out 60,000 Communion wafers that twelve nuns in Marlborough, Mass., had baked in a week of twelve-hour days starting each morning at 4:30.

Flying into New York City Tuesday morning, John Paul got a brief glimpse of sunshine, and his white robe glistened with golden light as he stepped off his plane at 9 a.m. Again a brief airport ceremony with dignitaries was enlivened by the Pope’s ability to unstuff a shirt. Mayor Edward Koch introducing himself: “Your Holiness, I am the mayor.” The Pope: “I shall try to be a good citizen.” Then off for two days of shrieking crowds and perhaps the toughest hours of his trip, a series of wildly contrasting events that showed all the nuances and talents of his complex personality.

Tight police security — at times the cordons around him were four deep— kept the Pope from one of his favorite activities, working the crowds. But still he pressed the flesh with anyone he could reach, displaying a deft politician’s hand that would have shamed Lyndon Johnson. The police had reason to wall off their charge: the FBI in Newark received a written warning that the Pope would be shot in Manhattan on Tuesday. The letter, purporting to come from the terrorist Puerto Rican Nationalist F.A.L.N., directed the FBI to an apartment in Elizabeth, N.J., where a submachine gun gun and several empty boxes of ammunition for handguns were found.

Harming the Pope, however, was the furthest thing from the minds of the people who greeted John Paul. “He waved!” exclaimed Miguel Vera, 30. “It’s beautiful—as if it is almost God to me.” The Pope found ample occasion to display his actor’s gifts. He jokingly covered his ears as a crowd sent up deafening cheers. At one point he responded to shouts of “Long live the Pope!” with “You are right!”— an odd rejoinder that only John Paul could make seem charming. He addressed 60,000 at Shea Stadium in four of the seven languages he speaks with facility— English, Spanish, Italian and of course, Polish (French, Latin and German are the other three) and drew applause by simply pronouncing place names with theatrical timing, greeting the crowds “from Long Island— and New Jersey— and Connecticut [pronouncing all three c’s]— and [long pause] Broke-leen.”

At the U.N., where Arab and Jewish diplomats jostled with all the rest to see him, John Paul showed his intellectual side, his 61-minute speech ranged over a variety of topics tied together tightly by sequential reasoning. The headline-catching bits — an assertion that overall peace in the Middle East must include “a just settlement of the Palestinian question,” a call for a “special statute” to assure the preservation of Jerusalem as a city holy to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — were really incidental notes.

John Paul’s main theme was that peace is threatened by any violation of human rights anywhere, and that the U.N. can fulfill its peace-keeping mission only if it remembers and applies its own 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Pope also denounced the arms race (“The continual preparations for war … mean taking the risk that some time, somewhere, somehow, someone can set in motion the terrible mechanism of general destruction”). He prayed that “every kind of concentration camp any where on earth may once and for all be done away with” and condemned “the various kinds of torture and oppression, either physical or moral, carried out … under the pretext of internal ‘security’ or the need to preserve an apparent peace.”

The delegates listened in total silence. From many, no doubt, the silence reflected only respect and attention, but it may also have signified irritation from some — the delegates of countries that maintain concentration camps and practice torture in the name of security. This Pope does not shrink from telling people what they do not want to hear. Said New York Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: “I can attest from having watched that the Eastern European and Soviet delegates knew exactly what he was talking about, and for once in that chamber, looked fearful rather than bored.”

The emotional high points of John Paul’s New York stay were a Tuesday evening Mass in Yankee Stadium and the Wednesday morning youth rally at Madison Square Garden. A crowd of 75,000 waited impatiently at Yankee Stadium, occasionally cheering a white-mitered bishop whom they mistakenly thought to be the Pope. John Paul finally appeared, 45 minutes late, in his white “Popemobile” (a rebuilt Ford Bronco truck) that slowly circled the field as the standing Pope extended his arms, first to one side, then the other, in blessing. People far out of his range of vision in the upper stands felt impelled to wave back, as if the Pope were greeting them alone.

The rhythmic clapping and popping of thousands of camera flashbulbs like fireflies throughout the stadium made John Paul seem less a religious figure than a Hollywood celebrity. But his sermon was the exact opposite of rock-concert hedonism. It was a warning against “the frenzy of consumerism.” Said the Pope to an audience that again fell silent: “Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need — openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advantaged; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so.”

At crammed Madison Square Garden, the Pope displayed his remarkable rapport with youth. The occasion was billed as “Youth in Concert with Pope John Paul II.” Once again, John Paul circled the arena floor in his Popemobile, reaching out exuberantly to youngsters leaning frantically out of their seats. The crowd went wild when he hoisted a young girl onto the roof of the vehicle. The 100-piece band from St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn played themes from Battlestar Galactica and Rocky. The Pope imitated a drummer and then gestured “thumbs up” with his left hand. For a few minutes, John Paul sat in the audience as he watched a slide presentation of youthful activities in the city. When he finally ascended the stage, young people presented him with gifts: among other things, blue jeans, a T shirt marked in red letters BIG APPLE WELCOMES POPE JOHN PAUL II and a guitar (an instrument that John Paul plays).

The Pope, obviously delighted, examined the gifts, and as he prepared to speak, the cheering built in a crescendo. Every time the noise would start to die down, someone would shout “Polish power!” or the name of a local high school or Catholic Youth Organization club, and the yelling would begin all over. Football-style cheers resounded from the balcony in praise of the Pope. John Paul shook with laughter. “Woo-hoo-woo,” he cooed. But when he finally took the microphone it was to deliver to the young a serious Christian message: “When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ, who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ, who is the fullness of humanity.”

While in New York, the Pope at his own request also toured visibly blighted areas — not only Harlem but the South Bronx, where he pleaded with a crowd at a vacant lot not to “give in to despair.” His visit concluded with the ceremonies at Battery Park and Shea Stadium. After telling the crowd in Shea that a city must have a “soul,” he left for Philadelphia. As his plane taxied away, the Pope blessed New York.

In Philadelphia late Wednesday and early Thursday, John Paul pointedly answered some of the voices of dissent within the church. Ukrainian-rite Catholics, who have been agitating for more autonomy within the church, he insisted that they must accept his authority. To an audience of 14,000 priests, nuns and seminarians gathered from dioceses all over the U.S., he repeated uncompromising stands against the ordination of women and for priestly celibacy.

The Pope closed the door to ordination of women as priests during his pontificate. That, he said, “is not a statement about human rights, nor an exclusion of women from holiness and mission in the church,” merely a reaffirmation of “the prophetic tradition” that only men can be priests. John Paul insisted on priestly celibacy “to express the totality of the yes that [priests] have spoken to the Lord” and made clear that his refusal to release priests from their vows would continue. “Priesthood is forever,” he said.

Both homilies, however, illustrated John Paul’s peculiar talent for winning personal enthusiasm from people who may disagree with his doctrinal stands by coupling them with positive thoughts. To the Ukrainian-rite Catholics he voiced enough praise of “diversity” within the church to win long applause. To the priests, nuns and seminarians he expressed— an exalted view of the religious life as one of devotion to God and service to humanity. At the end of his talk they stamped, clapped, whistled and sang. Many nuns who had sat stony-faced while John Paul said that women could not be priests joined enthusiastically in the rousing ovation.

John Paul showed the same touch with lay audiences. At his Mass on Logan Circle, he deplored sexual “laxity” but put his remarks in a context of freedom, which he said must not “be seen as a pretext for moral anarchy” but can be truly enjoyed only by those who have “respect for the truth.” The Philadelphia crowds were as fervent as any in the U.S. and, as everywhere, included many non-Catholics, who found the Pontiff far more than a touring curiosity. Lois Kukcinovich, a pianist at the New Generation of Disciples of Christ Church in Philadelphia, slept Wednesday night with her clothes on so that she could get out early Thursday to see the Pope. Said she: “The vibrations from him are just wonderful.”

Next came America’s heartland: Iowa. It was a stop that was not on the Pope’s original itinerary. But Joe Hays, 39, a farmer and mechanic in Truro, sent the Pope a handwritten letter inviting him to visit American farm country. John Paul, who grew up in a Poland that was then overwhelmingly agricultural, accepted only five weeks before his U.S. tour was to begin, throwing Des Moines residents into a frenzy of eleventh-hour preparation.

James Ross, a pottery teacher at the Catholic Bowling High School in West Des Moines, worked 110 hours in the last week making vessels for the papal Mass: a chalice, a plate for the Communion bread, a pitcher, a bowl for the washing of hands. Local carpenters crafted an altar and papal chair out of thick oaken beams salvaged from a 100-year-old barn.

Florist Lew Darnell and his wife Mary Kay placed bouquets of Enchantment lilies in vases, part of an enormous floral display. “We postponed our retirement,” said Mary Kay. “We were supposed to move to San Diego the first of October, but when we heard the Pope was coming we stayed.” To decorate the altar platform, 15 Wisconsin volunteers staged a two-week quilting bee to stitch together a 10-ft. square banner done in burnt orange, sky blue and leafy green.

Like the preparation, the papal visit had an earthy, homespun touch more gentle than the frenzy in the East. The Pope stopped first at the tiny (15 pews) St. Patrick’s Church, nestled in rolling farm land near Gumming. “Feel grateful to God for the blessings he gives you,” said the Pope, “not least the blessing of belonging to this rural parish community … May the simplicity of your life-style and the closeness of your community be the fertile ground for a growing commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile, at Living History Farms, which re-creates early life on three operating farms, the biggest crowd in Iowa history was gathering. By the time the papal Mass began on a 180-acre pasture shortly after 3 p.m., the throng totaled 350,000, more than double the 150,000 that descended on Iowa in 1959 for a glimpse of Nikita Khrushchev. Police cordoned off a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 and used it as a parking lot for buses that rolled in from Kansas, the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The crowd included many teenagers in jeans and backpacks. Seventy-five high school students from Independence, Iowa, walked 130 miles to see the Pope.

The Mass itself was filled with pageantry and song. At the Offertory, farm families carried to the altar symbolic gifts of soil, hand tools and garden vegetables: peppers and zucchini from Beverly and Tom Manning of Dallas Center; potatoes and apples from Frieda and Ray O’Grady of Afton; ears of corn from Mabel and Art Schweers of Lenox. In his homily, John Paul praised agriculture and one more time called attention to the plight of the world’s poor. He told the farmers, “You have the potential to provide food for the millions who have nothing to eat and thus help rid the world of famine.” Summed up Mike Keable, a Catholic deacon from Minnesota: “The Pope is the glue that holds the church together. What better glue can we have?”

Thursday night John Paul flew to Chicago, where a crowd of 1,000, shivering in upper-40s cold, chanted, “Long live the Pope,” outside his bedroom window at 10 p.m. John Paul appeared on a second-floor balcony and wagged his finger playfully at the crowd like a father telling his children it was past their bedtime. At 5:30 a.m. he was awakened by chants of “We want the Pope.” Though he appeared weary at times, most notably Thursday night, he drew strength from the crowds. He told an Italian TV interviewer: “When I first arrived in New York, I felt tired and it looked like a very long trip. But now it’s beginning to look too short.”

It was at a Chicago seminary, in an address to more than 300 U.S. bishops, that he gave the most doctrinaire talk of his tour. His technique was typically deft; he quoted exactly from a pastoral letter that the bishops themselves had composed in 1976, and in effect exclaimed: How right you are! On divorce, he told the bishops: “You faced the question of the indissolubility of marriage, rightly stating, ‘The covenant between a man and a woman joined in Christian marriage is as indissoluble and irrevocable as God’s love for his people.’ ” On extramarital sex: “You rightly stated ‘sexual intercourse is a moral and human good only within marriage. Outside marriage it is wrong.’ ” He condemned “both the ideology of contraception and contraceptive acts” and quoted approvingly the bishops’ denunciation of abortion: “You clearly said, To destroy these innocent unborn children is an unspeakable crime.’ ” He told the bishops that they had properly distinguished between homosexual acts, which he said are wrong, and homosexual orientation, which deserves sympathy: “You did not betray those people who, because of homosexuality, are confronted with difficult moral problems.” He also approved the bishops’ condemnation of racial antagonism and discrimination, but the total context of his talk was chilling to liberal theologians. He asserted that the church has a special mission to “guard and transmit intact the deposit of Christian doctrine,” thus reaffirming the thought that Christianity is a body of fixed beliefs rather than a faith that ought to be adapted to modern circumstances.

John Paul topped off his Chicago visit with still another Mass, this time in Grant Park, scene of pitched battles between police and anti-Viet Nam War protesters eleven years ago. A crowd of 500,000 transformed it on Friday into something more like the site of a love-in.

On Saturday morning John Paul made his last and most historic stop, arriving in Washington in a blaze of sunshine and a feast of good will. For the first time, a Pope was visiting the White House, a happening that would have been inconceivable in U.S. politics just two decades ago. Warmly, graciously, the Southern Baptist President of the U.S. greeted the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Gathered on the North Lawn of the White House for the official greeting were 3,500 guests, including many of the ranking figures of the Government.

The President began his remarks in Polish: “Niech bedzie Bog pochwalony!” Then he added the translation: “May God be praised!” Carefully noting the American tradition of separation of church and state, Carter also lauded John Paul: “You have moved among us as a champion of dignity and decency for every human being, and as a pilgrim for peace among nations. You have offered us your love, and we as individuals are heartened by it. You can be sure, Pope John Paul, that the people of America return your love.” At that, John Paul clasped his hands and quickly touched his heart.

In his reply, the Pope congratulated the President on his Polish. He said that he wished to be “the messenger of peace and brotherhood, and a witness to the true greatness of every person.” John Paul said he hoped the meeting would serve the cause of world peace, international understanding and the promotion of full respect for human rights everywhere.” He ended with his now-familiar “God bless America!” which brought the applauding guests to their feet.

After conferring for an hour, the Pope and the President greeted 6,000 guests gathered on the South Lawn for the afternoon’s second major reception. Here Carter contributed one of the most moving moments of his presidency. In his best preacher’s tone, he said to John Paul: “As human beings each acting for justice in the present — and striving together for a common future of peace and love — let us not wait so long for ourselves and for you to meet again. Welcome to our country, our new friend.” Echoing the President, the crowd burst into prolonged applause. As the Pope kissed the President, somehow part of the magnanimity of the Pontiff, as well as his blessing, was momentarily transposed onto the troubled shoulders of Jimmy Carter. He knew it, as did the audience, comprised largely of party faithfuls.

The afternoon marked the beginning of the end of the Pope’s extraordinary week. Little remained but a Sunday Mass — with crowd estimates at 200,000 — on the Washington Mall and the final takeoff of Shepherd I, his TWA 747, for Rome.

What did Pope John Paul II leave behind? He probably won few if any converts to his doctrinal stands. Those who believe in divorce, birth control and abortion presumably will go on doing so. Those who consider his refusal to ordain women a grossly mistaken policy began speaking up even while he was still touring the country. Indeed, groups of protesters dogged his two days in Washington. Read one typical banner: EQUAL RITES FOR WOMEN. Sister Lorraine Weires, a Dominican nun and ardent feminist who attended the Des Moines Mass dressed in black slacks, expressed hope that the Pope “is open to dialogue. He too will grow in consciousness.” Perhaps. But there is little reason to expect that in the years ahead John Paul will bend his views to suit the world as most U.S. Catholics see it.

Yet somehow last week that did not matter. By his force of personality, by his natural qualities of leadership, and by the warmth of his generosity, he generated in his Catholic audiences an enhanced pride in their church, a feeling that they were part of a larger whole.

Perhaps more important, John Paul left behind a morally imperative message for a people who seemed to need it. His visit showed with surprising clarity that many Americans of many creeds are looking for direction, for stability. They found themselves attracted to this strong, virile figure, a natural leader who was both compassionate and stern. The charisma spared nobody. Waiting for John Paul’s motorcade, U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim confessed: “This is one of my greatest experiences.” In Boston, Henry Cabot Lodge, 77, the former Massachusetts Senator and an Episcopalian, and his wife Emily, 74, stayed with the Pope the whole stormy day, although Emily Lodge lost a shoe in the Boston Common quagmire.

Finally, John Paul’s presence and words reminded Americans—and the world—that humanity does have a higher nature. Said Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, leading ecclesiastical historian at Catholic University: “The greatest contribution that the Pope’s visit can make to our nation is focusing upon and emphasizing the need for a revival of morality. John Paul is a man of singular sophistication; he is no pious goose. But he is a moral leader—or he isn’t anything.”

Millions of Americans could agree last week that they had seen a moral leader at work.

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