25 years later: Local Church to mark John Paul II’s visit

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Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass at Sun Devil Stadium Sept. 14, 1987.

The public is invited to a noontime Mass and light reception celebrating the 25th anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit to Phoenix.

The Sept. 14 solemn celebration at St. Mary’s Basilica, 231 N. Third St., falls exactly 25 years after the late pope greeted some 100,000 people from the church’s balcony. The kneeler he used still rests inside.

His whirlwind, 24-hour visit also included a papal address and ecumenical prayer service at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral plus meetings with staff from Catholic hospitals nationwide and Native Americans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The pope also celebrated Mass for nearly 80,000 people at Sun Devil Stadium.

Some 10,000 people volunteered to help with the events. More than once during his visit, the pope acknowledged the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and words from the Second Vatican Council which stressed the nature of the Church and its relationship with the contemporary world.

“Bringing the light of Christ into the world, that’s what Pope John Paul II was all about. So celebrating the 25th anniversary of his visit seemed truly appropriate,” said Missie D’Aunoy, diocesan director of the Office of Stewardship.

Her office is working with diocesan archives to host the celebration. People who attend the Mass and light reception at the neighboring Diocesan Pastoral Center can also visit The Virginia G. Piper Chapel, which is in remembrance of John Paul II.

It’s the focal point of the pastoral center and features the altar, chair, and ambo that the late pope used. Stained glass windows — some installed, others forthcoming — depict the life and influence of JPII including men and women he canonized or beatified. Some have a connection to ministry in the diocese.

The anniversary Mass will also serve as a soft opening to the Year of Faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

“Let us not forget the words of the Second Vatican Council, which said that missionary activity is ‘a supremely great and sacred task of the Church.’ The duty of carrying forward this work rests on the whole Church and on every member of the Church,” the late pope said at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

Anne Wuycheck wasn’t there, but she did have a papal encounter at two other places during his Phoenix visit. She was a senior at Xavier College Preparatory and her parents were friends with Msgr. John McMahon, who chaired the executive committee that oversaw JPII’s trip.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed by being in his presence. The intimacy you felt,” Wuycheck said. In a crowd of tens of thousands, “he looked at them into their very being.”

She said that experience changed her faith life. Before the pope’s Phoenix visit, she considered him to be a distant, removed figure of the Church. She now views the beatified pope  like an old friend, even though she didn’t personally meet him.

Wuycheck recalls hearing the testimony five years ago from Laurie Walsh during a special dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of the pope’s pastoral trip. Walsh received a papal blessing at Mass, which gave her the strength to become sober from that moment forward.

Celebrating the life and faith that Pope John Paul II inspired isn’t limited to those who lived here during his visit. Wuycheck said she has yet to meet a person who wasn’t affected  by his papacy.

“We all had a relationship with him, no matter where we lived,” she said.

His influence also extended well beyond the Catholic faith. For starters, 12  people of various religious beliefs commissioned the life-sized sculpture of Pope John Paul II, which stands in front of the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

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