Monthly Archives: September 2015

John Paul II in my backyard

Pope Francis became the first Pontiff to address the United States Congress when he did so this morning as part of his American tour. He’s in New York right now, where he will hold Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Francis’ visit made me remember when Pope John Paul II  (now St. John Paul II) visited New Orleans and other American cities in September 1987.

New Orleans found out it would be a stop on John Paul’s tour in early 1986. I remember my parents purchasing me a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion. 

At the time the Pope’s visit was announced, I was attending St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic elementary school approximately one mile from my house. 

By time the Pope arrived, I was no longer at St. Robert’s. My parents put me in a special school for retarded people and slow learners for the first quarter of my sixth grade year. I hated it so much that I will never, ever forgive them. NEVER. I would have been better off staying home until the beginning of the second quarter in late October. 

John Paul II arrived on a Friday night at New Orleans International Airport, where he was greeted by New Orleans Archbishop Phillip Hannan, New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, and several members of the state’s congressional delegation, led by Rep. Lindy Boggs, who would be appointed as United States Ambassador to the Vatican in 1997 by President Clinton. 

The next morning, the Pope held a youth rally in the Superdome, the prelude to the higlight of his stay in the city, a Mass in a large open field behind the left field fence of the University of New Orleans’ baseball park. 

Whomever scheduled the Pope’s visit to New Orleans had to have a screw loose. Who thought it was a good idea to hold an outdoor Mass in Septebmer in New Orleans? 

First, it’s way, way, way too hot for most of the year in New Orleans to be doing much of anything during the daytime. That’s the big reason I don’t miss Louisiana that much. 

Second, it could rain at just about any time between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a summer day in New Orleans.

Mother Nature delivered a double whammy the day of the Papal Mass.

The mercury soared into the mid-90s. The heat index was hovering around 110 degrees. 

Then the rain came. A lot of it. The only silver lining was there was no lightning. If there was, it could have been catastrophic, because the Mass was held in a wide open field with no cover. 

The Archidocese of New Orleans projected 250,000 to attend the Mass. The actual attendance was half that. 

The Superdome was not availalble for the Mass. Following the youth rallly, it was converted back to a football facility in order to host Tulane vs. Iowa State that evening, and then the Saints vs. the Browns in the NFL season opener the next day.

Why did the Vatican insist on coming to New Orleans on a weekend the Superdome would not be availalble for Mass? And would it have done any harm had the Mass been held in a smaller facility, like UNO’s Lakefront Arena? 

9/11 anniversary in teen years

Rumors of my demise were exaggerated, but not by that much.

A little more than 24 hours following my last blog post–39 days ago for those of you calendar challenged–something happened in my life that shook me to the core. It was so traumatic that I went off the very deep end. And by very deep, it got quite scary not only for me, but for my parents as well.

I can’t say life is perfect again, but at least it’s a far cry from where it was on the evening of August 5 and the two weeks after that. I was a rudderless ship pretty much for that period, and I honestly didn’t know what direction my life would take.

Crista and I got into a discussion about the September 11 terrorist attacks, since yesterday was the 14th anniversary of that horrific day. Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the attacks and the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, the plane which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center to begin the carnage, will always represent pure evil to  me. And I find him to be more evil than Charles Manson, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and many others could ever hope to be.

I’ll never forget the day before the attacks. It was a Monday. I got my car washed, and later that afternoon, I met Jimmy Ott at Pocorello’s Deli in southeast Baton Rouge to my usual Monday turn on Jimmy’s daily radio show, which at the time aired on WSCR-AM. We discussed the Saints’ season opening victory at Buffalo, LSU’s upcoming game with Auburn,and the baseball pennant races. I did not eat at Pocorello’s, which pained me greatly, because Pokie and Vita made the best Italian food I’ve eaten other than that cooked by my mother.

In fact, I didn’t eat all day Monday until the evening, because my Uncle Jerry took me to eat at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge. He had business for Allstate in Baton Rouge, and he called the Saturday before and suggested me meet for dinner. It was absolutely fantastic. I went back to my apartment to watch the Giants-Broncos Monday night game, then went to bed a little after 11.

That Tuesday didn’t figure to be much. I had nothing to cover for The Advocate, although I would be going to the office Wednesday to help Robin Fambrough compile the statewide high school football statistical leaders, and I had events to cover the three days after that, volleyball Thursday and football Friday and Saturday. The Saturday game was Baton Rouge Catholic at Jesuit in New Orleans, meaning I would miss the LSU-Auburn game.

After emerging from the shower a little before 9 that morning, I noticed CBS had broken into regular programming to report a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I left for a few minutes to get a late breakfast at a nearby Burger King, then came back and found out another plane hit the South Tower, which turned out to be United 175. .

Then the other flights went down: American 77 at the Pentagon and United 93 in a field in Shanksville, Pa., about an hour east-southeast of Pittsburgh.

For the next three days, you could watch coverage of the terrorist attacks, or coverage of the terrorist attacks. It was who you liked best–Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, or the teams at CNN and Fox News. Even ESPN simulcast ABC’s coverage, zapping SportsCenter and every other scheduled program.

MLB shut down until the following Monday. The NFL postponed week two. The LSU-Auburn game and other Southeastern Conference games were at first scheduled to go on, but finally, the suits in Birmingham bowed to intense pressure and called off the games, too.

Lucky for me, high school games went on, so I had a diversion. First was a St. Joseph’s Academy volleyball match vs. perennial power Assumption from Napoleonville, about 70 miles south of Baton Rouge. The Redstickers won easily, and were well on their way to their first of four consecutive state championships in the Bayou State’s highest classification.

The next evening, I traveled to Lutcher, a rabid football community halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Unfortunately for the home team, their Bulldogs were no match for East Ascension, which came down from nearby Gonzales and posted its third consecutive shutout to open the season.

After the game in Lutcher, I went home to New Orleans. That Saturday, there was nothing to watch, thanks to the postponements. That night, my dad accompanied me to Tad Gormley Stadium, where Jesuit won a tough 9-7 decision with a field goal in the game’s final minute.