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A New Springtime of Faith

KP Consulting Group’s Senior Strategist Steve Mamanella served as Community Relations Director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis at the time of the Pastoral Visit of Pope St. John Paul II on January 26-27, 1999 – 25 years ago this week. A member of St. Peter Parish in St. Charles, Missouri, Steve wrote about the papal visit in his memoir, Providential: An Autobiographical Exploration of the Gift of God’s Providence, published by En Route Books and Media:


Upon his St. Louis arrival in the early afternoon of January 26, all could see that the 78-year-old John Paul had become older looking, slower moving and visibly more frail than he was the last time he had traveled to the United States less than four years earlier. Nonetheless, his airport arrival ceremony and brief meeting with President Bill Clinton went smoothly. 

John Paul clearly was energized that evening by the 21,000 youth who filled Kiel Center for the papal visit youth rally. Some of the most emotional moments of the entire visit came from the youth event, during which John Paul told the young people that “the pope belongs to you.”

In his concluding message to the youth, he said:


"On the horizon of this city stands the Gateway Arch, which often catches the sunlight in its different colors and hues. In a similar way, in a thousand different ways, you must reflect the light of Christ through your lives of prayer and joyful service of others. With the help of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the young people of America will do this magnificently!"


"Remember, Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the pope believes in you and he expects great things of you!"


The pontiff received from a young person gifts of a hockey stick and a personalized St. Louis Blues hockey team jersey with the name “John Paul II” and a large number “1” on the back. He playfully swung the stick, smiled and told the throngs of young people, “So I am prepared once more to play hockey!” The crowd roared its approval. 

The next morning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the first day of the Holy Father’s visit with these words:


It was a historic day.


The leader of worldwide Roman Catholicism arrived in St. Louis, a Midwestern city named after a saint and strong in its Catholic heritage. This is a place where many Catholics still describe geography by parishes and where more of their children attend Catholic schools per capita than anywhere in the United States.


With his impeachment trial pending in Washington, President Bill Clinton flew to St. Louis with wife Hillary Rodham Clinton to welcome the pope.


And home run king Mark McGwire, meeting the pope in person, kissed John Paul’s ring in a backstage moment broadcast worldwide.


But most of all John Paul had set aside Tuesday for young people. And they didn’t disappoint.


With day one of the papal visit concluded, our communications team got a few hours of sleep in our guest rooms at the media hotel before waking early for day two.

Before dawn on the morning of January 27, I made my way to the media center. Media members were trickling in to prepare for what would be a long day. While the papal Mass at the dome was to go from 9:30 a.m. until about noon, those members of the faithful who had tickets to attend the Mass had to make their way to parking lots all around the metropolitan area to board chartered buses that would bring them downtown to the venue. Some of the faithful arrived at the dome as early as 1:30 a.m., and the first early-morning programming for Mass attendees in the dome began with a video about the Holy Father shown on the facility’s giant video display screens beginning at 4:30 a.m., followed by Morning Prayer at 5:30 a.m. Dome vendors sold coffee and breakfast items.

Like the youth rally the evening before, the papal Mass went extraordinarily well. In a special “Extra” edition released shortly after the Mass, the Post-Dispatch poetically reported under the headline: “Springtime of faith”:


Pope John Paul II today urged the largest-ever indoor gathering for Mass in the United States to carry the enduring values of the Catholic church across the threshold of the millennium.


His words echoed across a cavernous sports palace and convention center that for this day had been transformed into a cathedral for more than 110,000 worshippers.... 


In his homily, the pope called for a renewal of faith and a rededication to the sanctity of life. It must start with families, he said, “the most vital foundation of society, the first school of social virtue and solidarity.”


“The Spirit,” he said, “will truly bring about a new springtime of faith if Christian hearts are filled with new attitudes of humility, generosity and openness to his purifying grace.” ...


The day dovetailed with the pope’s message. At dawn, the sun drew reddish-orange tracers across the skies, the temperature augured spring.


Following the lengthy Mass, John Paul’s next public event was an evening interfaith prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Because the pope would offer no public remarks at his departure ceremony a few hours later, his closing words at the prayer service marked his final, departing words to the community of St. Louis. 

“A few months ago, a pilgrimage from St. Louis came to Rome,” the future canonized saint told the 2,000 attendees at the Cathedral Basilica service, including Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper. “We met on the steps of St. Peter’s, where they sang to me: ‘Meet me in St. Louis... meet me at the Dome!’” he said, causing the faithful in the Cathedral Basilica to chuckle. “With God’s help,” the smiling pope continued, “we have done it. I will always remember St. Louis. I will remember all of you. God bless St. Louis! God bless America!”


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