When compared to the history of the Catholic Church (2,000+ years), the history of the United States of America is minuscule. In 1789, Pope Pius VI confirmed the selection of Fr. John Carroll as the first Bishop in America. Since that time, the Catholic Church has grown enormously in our country. However, it wasn’t until 1965 when Pope Paul VI made the first visit of the Holy Father to the United States.
Ironically, Pope Paul’s visit came on October 4- the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi- the Saint whom our current Pope has modeled himself after. When he came to the US, he visited the United Nations General Assembly, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium in front of a packed house.
While the papacy of Pope John Paul I was tragically cut short by his untimely death, his successor, Pope St. John Paul II, ended up visiting the US plenty of times during his 26 year pontificate- seven separate times! Below is the list as published by the USCCB:
- 1979 (10/1 – 10/7) Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Des Moines, Iowa.
- 1981 (2/27) Anchorage, Alaska – stopover/several hours
- 1984 (5/2) Fairbanks, Alaska – stopover/several hours
- 1987 (9/10 – 9/19) Miami, Columbia, SC, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit
- 1993 (8/12 – 8/15) Denver (World Youth Day)
- 1995 (10/4 – 10/8) Newark, NJ, New York (including Brooklyn), Baltimore
- 1999 (1/26 – 1/27) St. Louis
Most notably of all those visits to people of our area was the 1995 occasion when he celebrated Mass at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. Thousands of people packed the stadium on that rainy afternoon- many of whom hailed from the Diocese of Paterson, including some from our own parish!
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made his one and only journey to the United States. He made stops in Washington, DC and New York City (including a stop at the Sept. 11 Ground Zero Memorial), celebrated three Masses and and met with representatives of other faiths during his visit.
Pope Francis will have a full agenda during his few days with us and we will detail that agenda in our next blog post.
Recently, Newsweek has published an article detailing visits that sitting US Presidents have made to the Vatican to meet the Pope. Starting in 1919 with President Woodrow Wilson, 12 sitting Presidents have visited the Vatican to see the Pope.
It is quite interesting to look at the history of visits on both fronts- Popes to the US and Presidents to the Vatican. These visits are mainly diplomatic in nature, however they are also representative of the mutual respect and admiration the two leaders and the two countries have for each other. Because the Pope is also the leader of the Catholic Church, they can also be seen as showing the importance of the Catholic Church to the United States.
While there has been a significant amount of build up for Pope Francis’ visit to the US, he has not been the only Pope to come stateside-- and he will not be the last-- but each time is unique and special for it’s own reasons and times in history. What is important to remember and focus on is that the Pope, the Servant of the Servants of God, the Successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Jesus Christ, represents so much to so many throughout the world and he is coming to visit us- the Catholics of the United States. May all of us be open to the message of peace, hope, and love that Pope Francis will bring and carry the energy of this trip into our daily lives from here on out.
Do you have any memories about a previous Papal Visit? We'd love to hear about it! Just send an e-mail to Evangelization@goodshepherdrc.org and maybe we'll publish your story in a future post!