St. John Paul II was the most traveled pope in history, logging some 700,000 miles and visiting nearly 130 countries.
One of the first countries the pope visited after his election was the United States. As Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, he had visited the US in 1976, two years before his election, stopping at places such as Michigan, Ohio, and Montana, and was eager to return.
Over the course of his nearly 27-year pontificate, St. John Paul II would make seven visits to the US— five of significant length, and two brief stopovers during which he nevertheless left a lasting impression on the memories of the locals.
St. John Paul II died April 2, 2005. On the anniversary of the saint’s death, we take a look back at his seven visits to the United States.
Visit 1, October 1-9, 1979
Where: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Chicago, Washington, D.C.
St. John Paul II’s first visit to the United States as pope was a whirlwind six-city tour that began with a gathering of 100,000 at Boston Common. He then went to New York where he held a youth rally at Madison Square Garden, gave a speech at the United Nations and celebrated Mass before a congregation of 80,000 at Yankee Stadium. He also received a ticker-tape parade in Philadelphia.
After a warm welcome in Chicago, St. John Paul II made his way to Des Moines, ostensibly after a Catholic Iowa farmer wrote to the pope to invite him to see life in “rural America, the heartland and breadbasket of our nation.” A crowd of 350,000 greeted him at a farm just outside the city.
The visit also marked the first time a pope had entered the White House, as he met with President Jimmy Carter in Washington. The two leaders discussed situations in the Philippines, China, Europe, South Korea, and the Middle East, and the pope emphasized to Carter the need for the United States to keep ties open to the largely Catholic people of Eastern Europe, then under the throes of Communism.
Finally, St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on the National Mall.
What the pope said:
“Dear young people: do not be afraid of honest effort and honest work; do not be afraid of the truth. With Christ’s help, and through prayer, you can answer his call, resisting temptations and fads, and every form of mass manipulation. Open your hearts to the Christ of the Gospels—to his love and his truth and his joy. Do not go away sad!” -Mass at Boston Common
“Fourteen years ago my great predecessor Pope Paul VI spoke from this podium. He spoke memorable words, which I desire to repeat today: ‘No more war, war never again! Never one against the other,’ or even ‘one above the other,’ but always, on every occasion, ‘with each other.’” -Address to the United Nations
“We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of ‘the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt 1 :19).’” -Mass at Yankee Stadium
“To all of you who are farmers and all who are associated with agricultural production I want to say this: the Church highly esteems your work. Christ himself showed his esteem for agricultural life when he described God his Father as the “vinedresser” (Jn 15 :1). You cooperate with the Creator, the “vinedresser”, in sustaining and nurturing life. You fulfill the command of God given at the very beginning: “Fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1 :28). Here in the heartland of America, the valleys and hills have been blanketed with grain, the herds and the flocks have multiplied many times over. By hard work you have become masters of the earth and you have subdued it.” -Mass in Des Moines
“All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ by reason of the Incarnation and the universal Redemption. For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it, as well as our endeavors to make every life more human in all its aspects. And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened.” -Mass on the National Mall
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