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? 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on September 24, 2015, in History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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