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Remembering John Paul II’s First US Visit 40 Years Ago

“When the audience got a glimpse of the Pope, there was just an eruption of noise, a scream all at once,” recalled James Pellegrini, now a physician, of the moment John Paul II arrived in Boston 40 years ago this October. “The crowd lit up with flashes; cameras were going off at once, illuminating the whole common. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it, and I probably never will again. It was like a rock concert, magnified by a factor of 10.”

Pellegrini was among a crowd of 400,000 that greeted Pope John Paul II that Oct. 1, 1979, his first day on U.S. soil as pope, arriving directly from Ireland. It would be the first of seven visits to a country beloved by the Polish pope.

To say that the future saint was greeted like a “rock star” is actually an understatement.

Elvis and the Beatles didn’t get responses like this.

The Pope visited several major cities, where he was greeted by phenomenal crowds, including the throng at a ticker-tape parade in Philadelphia. He celebrated Mass at sites as diverse and expansive as Yankee Stadium, the Washington Mall, Chicago’s Grant Park, and St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The Mass at Yankee Stadium was packed with 80,000 people. The Grant Park crowd approached a half-million, drawn from the ethnically Polish and Slavic Chicago environs. At Philadelphia’s Logan Circle, the mass reached more than a million.

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