“Today, in the Church in Los Angeles, Christ is Anglo and Hispanic, Christ is Chinese and Black, Christ is Vietnamese and Irish, Christ is Korean and Italian, Christ is Japanese and Filipino, Christ is Native American, Croatian, Samoan, and many other ethnic groups. In this local Church, the one Risen Christ, the one Lord and Saviour, is living in each person who has accepted the word of God and been washed clean in the saving waters of baptism. And the Church, with all her different members, remains the one Body of Christ, professing the same faith, united in hope and in love.”—Pope John Paul II, Dodger Stadium homily, Sept. 16, 1987By late in the evening of Sept. 15, 1987 — the first of Pope John Paul II’s historic two-day visit to Los Angeles — his host had a pretty good idea of the depth of the Holy Father’s commitment to prayer, since the pope spent most of the time in the helicopter (that took him from event to event) deep in prayer.Now, with the helicopter having landed at Parker Center (LAPD headquarters) downtown after its flight from USC and the L.A. Coliseum, where the Holy Father had celebrated Mass for more than 100,000 people, his host — Archbishop (now Cardinal) Roger Mahony — was about to get a unique insight into Pope John Paul’s humility and, well, human-ness.Arriving at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral residence, where the pope was staying (just a couple blocks from Parker Center), the pope and archbishop, and papal secretary Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz went up to the third floor, where a late supper was to be served. They could smell the food — but where were the servers?Alarmed, Archbishop Mahony went racing through the residence, clamoring, “Where is everyone? The pope is here!” Embarrassed that no servers, or chefs, were at hand, the archbishop went back to the dining room to apologize for the delay, and found no one. Then he heard noise in the kitchen, and went to check.And there was the pope and his secretary, admiring the meal to be served, and helping themselves to bowls of soup. “Just like,” Cardinal Mahony recalls, with a smile, 25 years later, “they were in someone’s home, which of course they were. I thought that was such a wonderful, human, touching quality.”Servers and chefs soon arrived, the meal was delightful — and so was the rest of the visit. Recently, Cardinal Mahony spoke with the Tidings about some of his fondest memories from Pope John Paul’s 48 hours in Los Angeles — Sept. 15-17, 1987.Organization to the maxA papal visit to Los Angeles had been discussed by the time Archbishop Mahony was installed as leader of the nation’s largest archdiocese in 1985. Those plans became official in 1986, and when the archbishop learned that John Paul would spend two days in Los Angeles with 12 major events, he knew serious preparation was in order.“I called Peter Ueberroth, who had done such a great job organizing the 1984 L.A. Olympics, and he referred me to an organization in San Francisco that had been helpful,” he said. “And this group was amazing. They assembled a timeline, a notebook and had every part of the visit planned right down to the second.”Those plans included a “leapfrog” scheme to move sound equipment from, for example, venue one to venue three while venue two was “in use,” rather than 12 separate sound systems, and producing a single comprehensive booklet for the visit rather than a whole series of them.And there were plenty of events: prayer and meeting with the U.S. bishops at San Fernando Mission and Queen of Angels High School; meetings with media professionals at Universal City and a teleconference with youth at the Universal Amphitheater; meetings with young students at Immaculate Conception School downtown, and with interfaith leaders in Little Tokyo; and, of course, the Papal Masses at the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium.Riding with the popeAlthough Pope John Paul traveled via popemobile from L.A. International Airport through the streets of Los Angeles to St. Vibiana’s for the first welcoming event, it was clear that ground transportation was not an option for the rest of the visit. “With all those events, it would take forever for motorcades to get through the city,” Cardinal Mahony noted. “So we used helicopters for the pope and his party. And invariably, we’d pass over the ‘Hollywood’ sign in the hills, and the pope — who, of course, was a great lover of the arts — would point to it and shout, ‘Hollywood! Hollywood!’“But then he’d be very quiet — either praying the rosary, reading from his breviary, always in prayer. He was a man of such great holiness, and I really saw it firsthand on that visit.”Tough ticketsThe Holy Father, the cardinal pointed out, was “very interested” in meeting with media professionals during his L.A. visit because of his great interest in the arts. That was why Cardinal Mahony asked Lew Wasserman, head of MCA and Universal Studios, to host a preliminary luncheon for leaders in television, film and other media, as well as the pope’s visit.“Initially, the response to Lew’s invitation to the luncheon was kind of slow,” the cardinal recalled. “But then, word got around and interest started picking up. And people were saying, ‘Well, if my friend is going, I better go too. And suddenly tickets were very hard to get.“And the pope was very positive when he met with them [at the Universal City Registry Hotel]. He reaffirmed their great role as storytellers in the media, in society, in culture. He reminded them that they had a responsibility to lift up the best of human values in their work. And those who came were very glad they did.” Time crunchWithin minutes of ending his meeting with the media pros, Pope John Paul was entering the Universal Amphitheater to speak to wildly cheering youth inside, and thousands more in Seattle, Denver and St. Louis via satellite in a very special teleconference.It was here that two alarm-producing moments occurred — both handled with grace by the Holy Father. The first came when armless guitarist Tony Melendez concluded his touching, tear-inducing song, and the visibly moved pope bounded off the stage to embrace him.“There were Secret Service agents around the rim of the stage who were to protect the pope from anyone rushing forward,” smiled Cardinal Mahony. “All of a sudden, I see Pope John Paul go forward and place his hand on an agent’s shoulder. I thought, ‘He’s gonna jump off the stage,’ which he did, and I thought that agent was going to have a heart attack.’ But the pope wanted to let Tony know how much he liked the song, and of course the audience was thrilled.”The next challenging moment came after the pope had answered a question from youth in each of the four locations. “It went very well,” said Cardinal Mahony, who was seated near the pope on stage. “So well, in fact, that we were running out of time. There were supposed to be two questions from each location — but we’d only purchased a set amount of satellite time, and now the director is shouting in my earpiece, ‘You’ve got to tell him to stop, we only have a few minutes left, the screen is gonna go blank!’“So I’ve got to go to the pope and whisper in his ear, ‘We can’t do a second round of questions because we’re going to lose our time, so you’ll have to do the final blessing.’ He nods and turns to the youth and says, ‘The archbishop says that we must end now so I can’t do anymore.’ And of course the audience just howled. But it was still a wonderful event.”Faith liftIn fact, the whole 48 hours was a joy — “days of grace,” as the cardinal wrote in a reflection piece in The Tidings soon after the visit. It’s a feeling that hasn’t changed over 25 years.“The pope’s visit was such a good opportunity to showcase the Catholic Church alive in Los Angeles — and throughout the country, for that matter,” he says. “The whole visit was covered so extensively, and for the most part so positively, by the news media. KTLA [Channel 5] had non-stop coverage, in fact.“And pastors told me afterward that the visit of the pope brought back a lot of people to the Church, that it enlivened the faith of our people, that it made people feel a great deal of pride in being Catholic. Having the Holy Father visit was a tremendous gift for us — a grace-filled time for us all.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0914/mahony/{/gallery}