As we celebrate the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States, it brought my mind back to another momentous Papal visit here.
When Pope John Paul II came to the United States in 1987, he visited California and celebrated Mass in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The theme of his second visit to the United States was: “Unity in the Work of Service.”
On September 15 of that year, Pope John Paul II celebrated a Papal Mass in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Over 11,000 people from the Diocese of San Bernardino attended the pre-event celebration and the Papal Mass, itself.
In preparation for the events, the Charismatic Renewal Office of the Diocese hosted a papal hotline to answer questions about the celebrations.
The pre-Mass concert (4:25 p.m.) was coordinated by Rev. Fred Gaglia, the pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Rancho Cucamonga. The concert entitled “Music, A Mosaic of Faith,” featured different musical styles ranging from opera to gospel to folk. The main performers included Placido Domingo, Deniece Williams, Sandi Patti, and John Michael Talbot.
Nine members from the Diocesan Assembly for Black Catholics were part of the regional gospel choir. An emotional moment occurred when Tony Melenez from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Chino, born with a clubfoot and without arms, played an inspirational song on his guitar with his feet. Over 500 young people from across the Diocese attended the pre Mass event.
The Diocese of San Bernardino was well represented in the liturgical roles for the Papal Mass which began at 6:30 p.m. Rev. Kenneth Jenkins, Director for the Office of Worship, was one of the eight masters of ceremonies for the papal Mass. Members of parish choirs throughout the Diocese were part of the 1,200 person choir.
A diocesan seminarian, transitional deacon Michael Fredericks, assisted the Pope as Deacon of the Altar. Three seminarians from Serra House were among the 11 altar servers. Bishop Phillip Straling was among the concelebrants as the bishop of a Southern California diocese.
Thirteen lay persons and three religious women from the Diocese were among the 100 people from the five Southern California dioceses participating in the Mass who received Holy Communion from the Pope. Jim and Debbie Morisoli from St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Rialto were two of the ten gift bearers for the Mass. They carried two baskets of gifts symbolic of the Diocese. One basket was made by Native Americans for the presentation. It was filled with oranges, grapefruits, lemons and dates. The other basket contained a young, 15 inch Joshua Tree, native to the Diocese and the Holy Land. Stephen Jackson from St. Matthew Parish in Corona read one of the prayers of the faithful at the Papal Mass.
The Diocese of San Bernardino’s Instructional Television Fixed Service provided live coverage of the Pope’s visit from September 10-15, 1987.
During this trip to the United States, the Pope visited Columbus, South Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; San Antonio, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco, California and Detroit, Michigan. Rev. Michael Manning, SVD was a special commentator for the Los Angeles visit on television KTLA, Channel 5.
The Diocese of San Bernardino also sent representatives to the other papal gatherings throughout the United States. Rev. Joseph Stadler and Rev. John Tahany attended the meeting of priests with Pope John Paul II in Miami, Florida. Lois Carson, Wilma Cochrane, Deacon Joseph Key, Willie Pierre, Warren Watson and Corinthia Williams attended the Papal audience with Black Catholics in New Orleans, LA.
Greg Fitzgerald, Director of Catholic Charities, and Sister Monica Kim, from the Department of Aging attended the Catholic Charities USA meeting in San Antonio where the Pope spoke and celebrated Mass. Carson, from the Diocesan Black Assembly, Kay Mason, Chairperson of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and, myself, when I served as Director of the Straling Leadership Institute, attended the Papal Mass in San Francisco.
Pope John Paul II ended his pre-arrival message for his 1987 visit to the United States with these words: “In this spirit, then, I return to you and your beloved land - a pilgrim pope who wishes to join with you in celebrating these noble works of service and building up our unity in the Lord…”