St. John Paul II was here — 30 years ago this week
Archbishop José H. Gomez Sept. 12, 2017
I talk a lot about the saints who have come to Los Angeles to pray and to minister and to encourage us.
I hope I will never lose that sense of amazement that I feel, knowing that we are walking in the footsteps of saints, praying in the places where they prayed, working in places where they once worked.
For me, it is a reminder that our mission in the Church is to be the next generation of “L.A. saints.”
I am reflecting on this because this week marks the 30th anniversary of the pastoral visit of St. John Paul II to Los Angeles.
The pope’s visit to Los Angeles was part of a 10-day trip to the United States in Canada. It was his second pastoral journey to this country.
At the time of his visit, I was a young priest serving in San Antonio. In fact, two days before the pope came to Los Angeles, he spent the day in San Antonio.
I will never forget that day as long as I live — I had the privilege of joining priests from across Texas to concelebrate an open-air Mass with St. John Paul for more than 350,000 people. I was able to see firsthand during that visit the Holy Father’s joy and intensity and the powerful connection he was able to make with ordinary people.
In my prayer and reading this week, I have been reflecting on St. John Paul’s visit to Los Angeles.
He spent a day and a half here, Sept. 15-16, and his schedule was packed — 10 public events, including major addresses to communications leaders, to young people, to representatives of world religions and to the bishops of the United States, who had come to Los Angeles to meet with the pope. He visited San Fernando Mission, Immaculate Conception School and celebrated large Masses at Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum.
Reading his talks again this week, I was struck by the prophetic quality of the pope’s message and insight.
He had a deep understanding of the American Church’s missionary roots and our unique character.
At Dodger Stadium, he invoked the missionary legacy of now-St. Junípero Serra and spoke of how the immigration of peoples from every continent continues to shape the Church’s spiritual identity.
He said immigration has made the Church in California — and especially in Los Angeles — “truly catholic in the fullest sense, embracing peoples and cultures of the widest and richest variety.”
St. John Paul also had a keen grasp of the trends and directions in American society, especially the pressures of secularization. He anticipated the challenges of religious liberty in a culture that he said was growing more “indifferent, if not hostile, to Christian morality.”
Speaking at St. Vibiana’s, which at the time was the archdiocesan cathedral, he said, “In a secularized world, to speak and act in the name of Jesus can bring opposition and even ridicule. It often means being out of step with majority opinion. Yet if we look at the New Testament, we find encouragement everywhere for perseverance in this testing of our faith.”
What I noticed in all his talks is how much the pope focused on hope and bringing light and encouragement. The challenges we face are great, he was saying, but Jesus Christ is greater and with him all things are possible.
Hope was the theme of his powerful teleconference with young people.
“People of hope are those who believe God created them for a purpose and that he will provide for their needs. They believe that God loves them as a faithful Father,” he said.
The Holy Father spoke emotionally about his own relationship with God and he made a personal appeal to young people:
“Be assured that the Lord knows each of you by name and wishes to speak to your heart in a dialogue of love and salvation. … Listen to his voice. Do not be afraid! Open up your hearts to Christ. The deepest joy there is in life is the joy that comes from God and is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the hope of the world. Jesus Christ is your hope and mine!”
His visit to Los Angeles culminated in an Act of Entrustment to the Virgin Mary.
Please pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And in a special way, I ask you to visit my Facebook page (@archbishopgomez) on Friday, Sept. 15 and Saturday Sept. 16, and join me in renewing this Act of Entrustment.
Together, let us ask our Blessed Mother, as St. John Paul II did 30 years ago: “Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of the Angels: I entrust to you the whole Church in America. Help her to excel in sacrifice and service. Purify her love, renew her life, and convert her constantly to the Gospel of your Son.”