Wednesday, September 30, 2009

30 Years Ago: "The Pope Is Not Finished! Let the Pope Finish!"

B16's 13th journey abroad might now be in the books, but an even more momentous PopeTrip milestone is upon us: tomorrow brings the 30th anniversary of John Paul II's arrival in Boston for the freshly-elected pontiff's first visit to the States -- a seven-day, six-city trek that provided most American Catholics' first chance ever to see the Man in White.

More on it as the week drags on... before crossing the Atlantic, though, the Great Wojtyla Road Show stopped first in Ireland for a 72-hour jaunt that ground the country to a halt, seeing half its population turn out and seven words near the close of the Pope's preach to a Youth Mass in Galway steal the show ( some Vatican aides eyed their watches to time what became a raucous, 14-minute ovation).

In an anniversary retrospective, one witness recalled it thus:
We didn't have big rock festivals in those days, so we'd never seen the like of the youth mass. It was a big camp out. The morning was cold and fresh and misty and when he took over it was magnificent....

Galway was about the future. At the end he said the famous line – 'Young people of Ireland I love you!' Everyone thought he was finished and [well-known "Singing Priest"] Mick Cleary had to shout, 'The Pope is not finished, the Pope is not finished. Let the Pope finish!'"
In a nutshell, what "One small step for man" was 'round these parts, "Young people of Ireland..." became on the Emerald Isle -- a moment that defined an era.

To hear audio of what happened in full, go here, fast-forward to 41:20... and, well, just soak it up.

Needless to say, it's the kind of thing we'll never see again... and not just as, stem to stern, the whole shebang was arranged on roughly a month's notice.

The long downward spiral from 1979's giddy, triumphant Irish Catholicism to the present has been reflected in the milestone's approach: in recent weeks, one prominent cleric called for the anniversary to be observed as a "day of atonement" for the sexual abuse of children on the church's watch, the Isle's staggering history of which would begin flooding the public consciousness over the decade that followed.

Indeed, one need look no further than the Galway Mass to find elements of the Irish church's subsequent fall from grace on prominent display: only in later years would it come to light that the Pope's pre-Mass cheerleaders -- the "Singing Priest" Cleary and the western city's ordinary, Bishop Eamonn Casey -- had both fathered children in clandestine relationships in the years before the visit.

To hear how the "Holy Show" was received on this side of the Pond, video of the US leg's opening event -- John Paul's rain-soaked Mass on Boston Common -- is up and streaming in two parts.

The Ireland and US visits were among the Pilgrim Pole's eight foreign journeys made within his first year on Peter's chair.