Catholics from around the Phoenix Diocese gathered for Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica Sept. 14 to remember the 1987 visit of Blessed John Paul II to the Valley.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted lauded the former pontiff for his “unbounded confidence in Divine mercy” and commitment to proclaiming the Gospel of Life. “From early in life until his final breath, John Paul II built his life on the love of the Lord Jesus,” he said.
Yolanda Gem and her daughter, Ramona, came from Tolleson to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the former pontiff’s visit. Yolanda remembered pulling Ramona, then 10-years-old, out of school for the day back in 1987. The two of them caught a glimpse of Blessed John Paul from where they stood in a crowd of thousands at the Phoenix Civic Plaza.
“He looked very little to us, but at least we got to see him,” Yolanda said. “To me, he was a very holy man following Christ’s path. Today was very moving.”
Deacon Joe Spadafino recalled attending the Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica and seeing Blessed John Paul II. “I had only been back in the Church about three years at that point,” Deacon Spadafino said. “It inspired me to become more active in the Church and it probably inspired me to become a deacon too.”
Deacon Spadafino worked for the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1987. “I came up with the idea for the miter with the cross on the signs,” he said. The distinctive road signs were posted all around the state and guided thousands of people to the various sites around Arizona where the pope visited. One of the signs was on display, along with dozens of photographs of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to the state, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center Sept. 14.
Barbara Hernes showed her photo album of pictures she has from the former pope’s visit. She recalled meeting Blessed John Paul II and shaking his hand. “I pray to him all the time—he was a great man,” Hernes said. “We need him now.”
Anne Wuycheck was a senior at Xavier College Preparatory in 1987 and not particularly enthused about attending the papal Mass at Sun Devil Stadium. Things changed once she saw the pope.
“I went and I knew,” Wuycheck said. “There was a bond and a connection there that I’ve never forgotten. I feel very much like he’s my friend.” She excused all three of her daughters from school to attend the 25th anniversary Mass and reception. “I’m very excited to let my children see where Blessed John Paul II knelt, where he was and to recount the stories,” Wuycheck said. “It’s also been great seeing people I knew in the past.”
The 1987 visit and anniversary Mass both took place on the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Bishop Olmsted said that like the cross, Blessed John Paul II was a sign of contradiction.
“Encountering hardship and being contradicted for our faith in Christ are proof of our fidelity to the Gospel,” Bishop Olmsted said. “The greater the difficulties we face for faith in the Lord and the more opposition that we encounter, the more confident we can be that we are indeed following the way of our Savior.”
Bishop Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares chose the feast day and anniversary occasion to promulgate their pastoral letter, “Blest Are They Who Believe,” which addresses the upcoming Year of Faith.