Meet Me in St. Louis

The Pope took St. Louis by storm. Why does this man hold such a grip on the religious and non-religious of today?
From the March-April 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

When the announcement was made last year in St. Louis, Mo., that Pope John Paul II would visit, the city began preparing eagerly. About one week prior to his arrival, the city was ecstatic. The hype for his visit surpassed the fervor over Mark McGwire’s attack on the home-run record. Never being visited by a pope before, the city made many final preparations to ensure a flawless visit. No expense was spared. Thoroughfares received a $500,000 facelift, including 20 miles of plastic orange safety fencing along the Pope’s motorcade route used to control the crowds mobbing to catch a glimpse of this man. A throne for the Pope on his visit took four St. Louis men three 50-hour weeks to complete.

Thousands of screaming youth turned out for a youth rally on January 26 at the Kiel Auditorium, cheering and applauding almost every statement the Pope made. Earlier in the day, President Clinton had flown in to welcome the 78-year-old pontiff. Wednesday morning, people awoke in the wee hours of the morning to get a seat at the Trans World Dome. This football stadium holds over 65,000, but a crowd of 104,000 people packed in; 20,000 chairs had to be rented. So many wanted to attend that lotteries were conducted even in distant cities to determine who would be admitted inside for the morning Mass. At the service, 900 priests and deacons served 130,000 communion wafers baked by local nuns.

With about one million people coming to see the Pope, the boost to the local community was estimated at $25 million.

Not only were local Catholics excited about the Pope’s visit, but many of other faiths were also caught up in the enthusiasm and payed their homage. One Protestant minister called a radio talk show and said he welcomed the papal visit since he felt the Pope was “next to God.” Masses crowded into the gateway city to glimpse the pontiff, even “touch his garment,” as one woman said. A missionary from Idaho observed, “It’s like being with Christ.”

Rabbi Robert Jacobs read from the book of Isaiah in the St. Louis Cathedral with the Pope sitting in the sanctuary, listening. Jerusalem Rabbi David Rosen praised this, saying he never knew of a service such as this happening. In fact, Pope John Paul II is the first pope to pray in a synagogue in 1700 years and the first pope to open diplomatic relations between the state of Israel and the Vatican. Rosen also said, “For me the Pope is one of the great symbols of goodness in the world.”

Why does this man command such a response wherever he goes? Catholics believe he is the “Vicar of Christ”—Christ’s representative on earth, or the one in His place. Some claim he is infallible—incapable of error. Others feel he has healed the rift between religions, and many view him as the spiritual head of Christiandom. Some call him an ambassador of peace, since he travels to many countries. When he visited Cuba, he convinced Castro to allow Christmas observance and appealed for the release many political prisoners.

The fact is, world leaders listen to the Pope.

What other man could unite the nations of Europe in political, religious and economic unity? If it is not John Paul II, it will be one of his successors. It wasn’t the man that caused such a stir in St. Louis as much as it was the office he held. The power in this office will revolutionize world events as it leads the world to witness the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire.