Pope John Paul II visits Phoenix

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Metal detectors to get into the reserved seats were over an hour late on the day of the papal address. Still, a huge crowd managed to gather to hear the Holy Father from the steps  Sept. 14, 1987.

Where were you 25 years ago today? Pope John Paul II was making his way around the Valley. He touched down at Sky Harbor at 8:30 a.m., was whisked away to St. Joseph's Hospital and by 9:40 a.m., began the papal motorcade down Central Avenue to St. Mary's Basilica. There he addressed the massive crowd (150,000 or so), addressed  Catholic Health Association members at nearby Phoenix Civic Plaza and made it to Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral by 12:30 p.m.

By 4:30 p.m., the pope participated in a “structured dialogue” with Catholic Native Americans at Arizona's Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He celebrated Mass at 6:30 p.m. for 78,000 people at Arizona State University.

Here's a brief look at that answer for those (past and present) working at the Diocesan Pastoral Center:

  • Five photographers for The Catholic Sun (a two-year-old production at that point) shot nearly 4,000 pictures during his roughly 24-hour visit. Not bad for 35mm days. Each one  — many were freelancers — selected their favorite 100, from which Chris Gunty, associate publisher at the time, chose more than 90 for possible printing.
  • Some 2,000 journalists covered the papal visit.
  • Cindy Leonard, now coordinator of the diocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, was in the choir for the papal Mass at ASU alongside her husband, Mike. They still have the music from the liturgy. Earlier that day, the couple brought their two oldest sons in front of St. Mary's Basilica to hear Pope John Paul II address the crowds.
  • Fr. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor for the diocese, was pastor of St. Frances Cabrini in Camp Verde at the time. He picked up some priests in Cordes Junction on his drive to the Valley. They encountered the pope at the cathedral for an ecumenical prayer service.  He, like the vast crowds, had the rest of the day free until the Papal Mass. Priests vested in the basketball area. Fr. Diskin still remembers the impressive crowd and seeing the large cross, the one that's now outside of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, “dominated the center of the stadium” he said.
  • Paul Mulligan, executive director for Catholic Education Arizona, met the woman who would become his wife during the papal visit. They were both part of the crowd outside of St. Mary's Basilica, but didn't meet until that evening when they were student representatives for Brophy and Xavier during the Papal Mass at ASU. They named their son John Paul.
  • See what other local Catholics remember about the papal visit. Read their comments on the Diocese of Phoenix's Facebook feed.
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Ambria Hammel
Ambria Hammel, staff writer, began serving The Catholic Sun diocesan newspaper via writing and photography in 2006. For story ideas, email ahammel@catholicsun.org or call (602) 354-2134.

1 COMMENT

  1. I was there!!!!! My oldest daughter who was 16 at the time and myself were in the choir who sang for the Mass at ASU. What a blessing…what an honor. I stil have the Certificate, signed by the Pope, thanking me for participating in the Mass.
    When we went to rehearsal, I took my then, infant daughter with and we were on the NEWS!!!! I still have that video….with Frank Camacho, reporting!
    Oh, such beautiful memories of a holy event!

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