My dear people of St. Mary’s:
Prior to Holy Week and Easter, I wrote to you in this space about Pope Francis’ decision to canonize his predecessor, Pope Blessed Paul VI. The canonization will take place most likely in the Fall of this year. Blessed Paul was Pope from 1963 to his death in 1978. He presided over the Second Vatican Council, and shepherded the Catholic Church though the very difficult times if the 1960’s and 1970’s. But he was also the first Pope to travel abroad. We, of course, take that for granted since Pope St. John Paul II made 104 pastoral visits to 129 countries, traveling over 725,000 miles in 26 years. Pope Paul visited 9 countries over his fifteen years as pontiff. His first trip was in 1964 to the Holy Land. But, memorable for us is his October 4, 1965, visit to New York City.
The Pope only spent fourteen hours in the city. Landing at Kennedy Airport (recently renamed after the assassination of the President), he said: “Greetings to you, America. The first pope to set foot upon your land blesses you with all his heart.” He then made his way immediately to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was greeted by Francis Cardinal Spellman. The Pope then traveled to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to meet with President Lyndon Johnson. Following that meeting, the Pope made his way to the United Nations building in order to address the General Assembly. It was the first time a Pope had visited that body. The pope pleaded for peace in a nuclear world: “No more war! Never again war! Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”
The Pope went on to the Bronx in order to celebrate Mass at (the old) Yankee Stadium for nearly 100,000 people. Following that, at 10:30 pm, he was taken to the World’s Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows, in order to visit the Vatican Pavilion, where Michelangelo’s famous statute The Pieta was on display, having been loaned by the Pope for the occasion. By midnight, he was on his way back to Rome.
I was there myself, for this historic visit. I even had my picture taken with the Holy Father. The Papal motorcade traveled on a circuitous route throughout the city so that many people could see the Pope. My parents, living in Manhattan at the time, stood on the east side of Third Avenue, across from the New York Foundling Hospital on 68th Street, to await the motorcade. A teller in the bank behind them snapped a photo as the Papal limousine passed by; she later gave it to my mother. In the photo, my father holds me, and my mother stands next to him wearing a scarf, and my sister is in front of her. I am the eleven-month old baby, the only one in the enormous crowd looking in the wrong direction! But, technically, I can say I have a photo of me with Pope St. Paul VI!