An anniversary of historic firsts

The first stop — Boston, on the first pastoral visit to the United States of America of the first Polish pope happened 25 years ago on the first of October 1979.

Arriving from Ireland aboard an Aer Lingus jet, the Holy Father was greeted by Boston’s archbishop, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros and a host of other church and civic leaders. The papal motorcade moved through the city’s winding streets. Although the papal car moved quickly not a few made observations like “The Holy Father looked up and I know he was looking at me.” Through the North End across the city to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where a special prayer service had been arranged for the priests with the Holy Father. The packed church burst into thunderous and sustained applause when the pope arrived at its front doors on Washington St.

From showers to buckets, the rains came but they could not dampen the enthusiasm of the faithful who mobbed Boston Common for the Papal Mass. The Archdiocesan Papal Choir had been rehearsing for weeks. Father (now Msgr.) Francis Strahan had not only directed and rehearsed the choir assembled from across the archdiocese, but had also composed music for the liturgy. Security was tight, but by today’s standards would have been called lax. Events at Rome and in the United States in the intervening years would certainly mean that future visits of this kind would not allow priests to crowd the pope in the cathedral’s aisles nor other even more obvious demonstrations of affection and enthusiasm.

In spite of the obstacles mother nature presented, the participation of the huge crowd at the Holy Father’s Mass was respectful and orderly. Priests who distributed communion to the assembly on the Common noted that even with the difficulty of getting to their stations there was generally a reverent spirit.

After the Mass the Holy Father went to the Cardinal’s Residence, greeted on his arrival there by the Boston College Band. He dined with Cardinal Medeiros and the bishops of the area. He remainded overnight at the Residence, the first and only pope ever to do so. On the following morning he made a brief visit to St. John Seminary and departed by helicopter for Logan and his trip to New York.

Memorable, spiritual, moving, holy, exciting, wonderful — each one had a word or words to describe feelings, thoughts and emotions about the visit, but especially about the Holy Father. In very different circumstances 25 years later he still inspires, teaches, leads and serves.