Tuesday, October 23, 2012

(98) Memories of Seeing Blessed Pope John Paul II Three Times When He Visited Detroit September 18-19, 1987.......25th Anniversary This Year


Memories of Seeing Blessed Pope John Paul II Three Times When He  Visited Detroit September 18-19, 1987.......25th Anniversary This Year 

        October 22, 2012 is the Feast Day of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the night of the last Presidential Debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama, and also the night that the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-0 in the seventh game and win the National League Pennant after being behind three games to one.  They meet the Detroit Tigers in the World Series two days later.  In September 1987 there also was pennant fever in Detroit which came back to win the Eastern Division Championship of the American League on the final weekend of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays with a final record of 98-64.  

         That same month in 1987 there was excitement in Detroit for another reason.  Pope John Paul II visited Detroit September 18 -19 after visiting several places in the western states.  Sparky Anderson, the Tigers Manager in the midst of the pennant race, made sure he got the chance to greet the Pope personally.  Just a few weeks ago, Detroit celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Papal Visit.  Through her contacts, Jaga and I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Detroit with the Polish Transfiguration Church of Cleveland less than a year before we were married.

        I remember it so clearly.  Pope John Paul II was in the ninth year of his Papacy (elected October 18, 1978).  We attended Mass in Polish in the morning of Friday the 18th at the ethnic Polish church and left by chartered bus for the 4 - 5 hour trip to Detroit.  Upon arriving in the late afternoon, we checked into the motel with Jaga and I in separate rooms.  

       Vespers at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  Our first activity was to greet the Pope as he entered the Cathedral for vespers and speaking to the seminarians.  It was by invitation only, but we barely got a glimpse as the Pope's motorcade arrived.  The atmosphere was full of excitement within the big crowd.  My cousin Martha and Joe Loya said they saw Jaga and I along a barricade on Cleveland television.  To keep our group together, Fr. Marian Kencik, who did a great job of organizing our pilgrimage, would raise his big red and white umbrella (the colors of the flag of Poland) and we would follow.  He knew the Holy Father back in Poland when he was Bishop Wojtila.   

        The Holy Father started the incredibly long day at Hamtramck about 9am, the Polish-American section of Detroit.  There he spoke in a large square packed with some 50,000 people.  In his speech he switched back and forth between Polish for the most part and English.  The Pontiff was very comfortable speaking in his native Polish with a deep and powerful voice from a podium surrounded by bullet proof glass. All I understood was "Solidarnosc" (Solidarity), but it seemed like great oratory with enthusiasm and strength.  Of his many trips around the world, this occasion must be the only time that he gave a talk in Polish outside of Poland.  We were quite close to him, some 20-25 yards.  At the age of 67 he seemed to be vigorous and energetic, speaking with a powerful deep voice.  After this event he spoke to the deacons.  The following three links are videos which record in detail his visit to Hamtramck: 

       Hart Plaza. Around 2 pm that afternoon about 70,000 people heard the now Blessed John Paul II speak from a tower overlooking a major intersection in downtown Detroit right off of the Detroit River which connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron.  Across the river is Canada.  We were almost a block away, but with the loud speakers over a block or so radius we could hear him well, speaking in understandable English with a thick Polish accent, this time with a written text.

       Mass in the Silverdome was the last major event at about 4 pm.  After going through the scanning like at the airport, we sat on the second tier in the end zone with a great view.  Low pressure air kept the roof inflated.  The Pontiff officiated with a couple hundred priests concelebrating and gave the homily to the crowd of 90,000 faithful.  After the Papal Mass, Vice-President George H.W. Bush bid good-by in representation of President Ronald Reagen who collaborated with the Vatican to eventually liberate Poland and bring down Communism in Eastern Europe.  Outside we saw Pope John Paul II take off in the helicopter to the airport. 

       We got back to Cleveland around midnight and then drove back to Kent, where Jaga was in her last year of nursing and I was slowly clogging along toward my doctorate.  This was an experience we will never forget, inspiring us to name our first born son (1989), John-Paul.

       You can read or hear the talks of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Detroit by clicking on http://www.shms.edu/NR/exeres/AE9FBD86-434F-46ED-84D5-8BDE618DB94A.htm?NRMODE=Unpublished.  You can also watch a video on the Papal visit by clicking on:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW_cPQZacnA.  It gives an overview with highlights of his visit to Detroit.  

        Below is an article from the Detroit News which summarized the 1987 Papal visit to Detroit in greater detail with more sources at the end..                         

Pope John Paul II arrives at Detroit's Metro Airport Friday, Sept. 18, 1987.

When the pope visited Detroit

By Kay Houston / The Detroit News September 1, 1999

        He was not originally scheduled to visit here. The National Council of Catholic Bishops had insisted his route be confined to the South and West, areas he had missed on his visit to the U.S. in 1979.
Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and Archbishop Edmund Szoka greet the pope at Metro Airport
        It was partly due to the efforts of then Archbishop Edmund Szoka that he finally arrived in Detroit. Szoka went over the heads of the Council, traveled to Rome and pushed for Detroit while having dinner with the Pope.  In January of 1986, a mix up in the Pope's schedule led to a day being added at the end of his trip. John Paul himself decided he would use the extra time to visit Detroit.

         This was not his first time in the Detroit area. Prior to becoming pope he visited Hamtramck in 1969 and in 1976 he visited SS. Cyril and Methodius, the only Polish Catholic seminary in North America. He was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla at the time. He became pope in 1978.

          When he arrived at Detroit Metro Airport in 1987 on his TWA Boeing 727, it was the first time a pope had ever visited Michigan. For the duration of his American travels, the plane was dubbed "Shepherd I".
           Carol Gnyp was scheduled to leave for Chicago and was hoping her flight would be delayed so she could see the pope come in. Pauline Darr of Detroit got to the airport early to pick up her husband. "I probably won't be able to see anything from here," she said "But even if I can see his shape I'll be happy."

         John Paul was met at the airport by Sen. Carl Levin, Gov. James Blanchard, Hamtramck Mayor Robert Kozaren and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. He was then whisked by helicopter to Sacred Heart Seminary where he met with young seminarians.

        From there he was taken to the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and greeted by Archbishop Szoka, whose voice broke with emotion as he welcomed the pope. John Paul spoke to l,400 invited guests, telling them he came as successor of St. Peter but emphasized that his ministry "is a great gift of God's grace and not the result of any human merit. The church is more than a community of shared beliefs and practices," he said, "it is an instrument of redemption."

The pope addresses 1,500 Catholic deacons, the largest such gathering in history, at Ford Auditorium.

         The Pope spent the night at Archbishop Szoka's residence while his entourage was housed at the Hotel St. Regis. Celeste Bowman of Livonia who volunteered to serve as hostess at the St. Regis vividly recalls watching on TV in the hotel lobby as the entourage left Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.

          "His entourage left with police escort, sirens blaring. As they faded from the TV screen, the motorcycles were pulling up in front of the hotel and in came the Vatican cardinals and bishops."

         Hundreds gathered around the Cathedral, hoping to get a glimpse of the pope. Aaron and Vi Piper who live near the archbishop, were excited. "It's an event", Aaron said."This is great. Since he is in our neighborhood we thought it would be nice to see him. He is one of the most powerful, influential people in the world."

          As he slept, people were gathering during the night in Hamtramck to greet him the next morning. One vendor complained that the people weren't coming here to buy, "they just want to see him."

            Even Crown's Bar had turned off the baseball game to watch the Pope's arrival. At midnight, hundreds lined the streets where John Paul would speak the following day. Diane Krywy of Warren, came with chairs, TV, two cots, sleeping bags, wine, snacks, and a deck of cards. Some of the restaurants stayed open all night. Hamtramck, which is 50 percent Polish and 75 percent Catholic, was festooned with U.S. and Polish flags and Vatican banners. For many Polish Catholics, hearing the pope in their native tongue would be an emotional event.

         As he approached on Saturday morning, a Polish phrase quick swept the through the crowd: "Juz nadjezdza (he's coming!)". More than 50,000 cheered and waved as his motorcade moved down Jos. Campau. He told the people of Hamtramck, many of them children of Poland: "Solidarity must take precedence over conflict." And "From the beginning," he said, "I have known Hamtramck."

       He took time at the end of the parade route to kiss babies and shake hands. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was one of those he greeted (In Sparky's words, "the man is a heavyweight".) before leaving for downtown Detroit for a meeting with Catholic deacons.
A children's choir prepares to greet the pope at Hart Plaza.
         Later that afternoon, the Pope spent an hour at Ford Auditorium with the deacons, reiterating their importance to the church. Jim Brown of the Lansing diocese said: "He reassured us, gave us a pat on the back. Sometimes, this is a thankless job and the higher-ups haven't always been so supportive of us. But he is, and he let everybody know that."  Al Sandoval of Denver said it was the experience of a lifetime for the deacons. "It's the first time we've been publicly acknowledged".

        Meanwhile, a crowd of more than 70,000 had gathered to hear him speak at Hart Plaza. One family, Sonia and Paul Hitt and their young daughter drove down from Green Bay, Wis. They celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary by spending the night under a street light near the City County Building. They had originally planned to stay at a motel but decided to camp out on the street where they'd have a good view of the Pope. Canadians across the river watched, too, with high powered telescopes.

         As the pope mounted the podium, silence fell over the plaza. He spoke about the effect of new technology on human beings, a topic appropriate to Detroit 's auto workers.  Sonia Hitt's eyes filled with tears as the pope prayed before leaving Hart Plaza. "He gives one strength. To me, the pope is closest to God," she said.
Thousands listen to the pope at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.

       From there he was taken by helicopter to the Silverdome where more than 90,000 waited. He spoke again of the people who work, each a "human being not a mere instrument of production. Central to the church's teaching is the conviction that people are more important than things," he said. The pope himself was a former factory worker.

       Said Ross Perot, "Here's a man of God, housed in the Vatican in Rome, talking more business sense than you'll hear in the Harvard business school." Doug Fraser, former UAW president, said "He shows great sensitivity to the worker. It's an eloquent statement of workers' rights. And how appropriate to say it in Detroit."

         Many had arrived at the Silverdome early. George O'Connor of Royal Oak said, "I wanted to arrive early enough to get the flavor of this once-in-a-lifetime event." Steve and Sarah Chetcuti of St. Clair Shores and their three children arrived at least five hours early. Said Steve, "I think it's great to have someone like the pope who sticks to the book, someone who can really guide your life."

       Several music groups entertained the thousands gathered before Mass, among them was RhFactor rock band, invited by Fr. Tom Johnson. The drummer commented, "It's a great honor to be even considered for something like this."
The St. James adult choir sings for the pope at Hart Plaza.

       The pope followed a huge liturgical procession to the top of the altar for mass; as a l,200 voice choir sang. The choir was made up of representatives of the 345 parishes in the Detroit area. The Papal mass, a 2 l/2 hour service rich in ceremony and splendor, was delivered by l00 high-ranking clergy.

       Thousands received communion; about l00 from John Paul himself, the rest by 693 cardinals, bishops, priests and lay ministers. It was an emotional experience for people like Dorothy Brighton who received communion from the pope.

        "I've been receiving communion for 37 years and it's never been like that," she said as she wept. At the end of the mass, the pope blessed the people and gave an impromptu speeche: "My brothers and sisters, during at least two centuries so many immigrants from different countries and nations found here in Detroit, Michigan, a great hospitality."

       He expressed his gratitute for the hospitality shown him and hoped "this hospitality will bring deeper unity to the church of the Christian people of the United States. I hope and I wish that this visit will be spiritually fruitful. Thank you very much."

       Before taking off for Edmonton, Alberta, he met briefly with Vice President George Bush and spoke one last time to the people of Michigan: "Mr. Vice President, dear friends, dear people of America. Once again God has given me the joy of making a pastoral visit to your country, the United States of America. I'm filled with gratitude to Him and to you."

      One month later, a spokesman for the archdiocese said the benefits of the pope's two-day visit were "immeasurable." He told of one priest who said lapsed Catholics "were coming out of the woodwork," anxious to get back in the church."  "The attraction was essential goodness. John Paul II, a son of hardship who grew up to bear the title Vicar of Christ, was in Detroit to be seen, heard and touched by people."

The pope addresses the Hart Plaza crowd behind a bullet-proof shield.
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