Papal Mass
Papal Mass
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A look at John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis, 20 years later

A retrospective look at St. John Paul II's historic visit to St. Louis, 20 years later

Photo Credits: Mark Kempf
St. Louis has long been known as the Gateway to the West — and among Catholics as the Rome of the West. But Pope John Paul II, upon visiting this city 20 years ago, also described St. Louis as “the gateway of great Christian witness and evangelical service.”

At a Mass before more than 100,000 people at the then-Trans World Dome, the Holy Father implored Catholics to “draw inspiration and strength for the new evangelization so urgently needed at the approach of the Third Christian Millennium” from St. Louis’ “immense heritage of holiness and service.”

Six years after his time in St. Louis, the pope went on a different journey — this time through death and into God’s heavenly kingdom. In 2014, he was canonized a saint. The message which he shared with St. Louis continues to have an impact on Catholics here today.

Then-Archbishop Justin Rigali described Pope John Paul’s visit as a “spiritual event of lasting significance” — and how right he was. The Jan. 26-27 visit included three major events: a youth rally at the Kiel Center; Mass at the Trans World Dome; and a vespers prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

His visit to St. Louis was part of a journey to North America that included a stop in Mexico for the Synod of Bishops for America. It was his fourth trip to Mexico and seventh to the United States. The St. Louis visit was arranged by Archbishop Rigali, a longtime friend of the pope. During his visit, the 78-year-old Holy Father highlighted the ties of unity and solidarity necessary for the new evangelization in the Americas.

Pope John Paul II was greeted with sunny skies and warm weather upon his arrival at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on the afternoon of Jan. 26, an answer to the prayers of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters) leading up to the visit. What was a 31-hour whirlwind took months of planning, with Archbishop Rigali having announced the trip just nine months prior.

Later that day, he headed to the Kiel Center for a youth rally, where he told 20,000 young people, “tonight the pope belongs to you.” He called on them to “train yourself for devotion,” as it “will help

Youth rally
Photo Credits: Richard Finke
you to live your faith in Jesus more decisively. This is the ‘training in devotion’ that St. Paul is referring to — the training that makes it possible for you to give yourselves without reservation to the Lord and to the work that he calls you to do!”

He added that a Christian’s training is never finished, and said young people should be “ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you — all of you — to be light to the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine!”

In the homily at Mass Jan. 27 at the Trans World Dome, he emphasized the importance of the family, which is the “primary and most vital foundation of society,” a renewal of Christian marriage and support for a culture of life. He also called for an end to every form of racism, which he said is “a plague which your bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.”

“The Spirit will truly bring about a new springtime of faith if Christian hearts are filled with new attitudes of humility, generosity and openness to his purifying grace,” he said. “In parishes and communities across this land holiness and Christian service will flourish if ‘you come to know and believe in the love God has for you.’”

St. John Paul II meets Rosa Parks
Photo Credits: L'Osservatore Romano
Pope John Paul II's speeches and homilies in St. Louis


• Homily from the Eucharistic Celebration Jan. 27 at the Trans World Dome:

• Homily from Vespers Jan. 27 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis:


• Address at the welcome ceremony Jan. 26 at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport:

• Address to young people Jan. 26 at Kiel Center:

• Written message to children at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital:

• Farewell address Jan. 27 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis:

Saintly artifacts

Several artifacts from Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis are on display at the Mosaic Museum at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Artifacts include the throne he sat at during Mass at the Trans World Dome, the stole featuring St. Louis’ patrons, which was worn at the youth rally at Kiel Center, as well as the needlepoint prie-dieu that he knelt upon in prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the cathedral basilica.

The museum also includes displays that explain how the cathedral basilica’s collection of mosaics were designed and applied and a collection of historic vestments and sacred vessels used in various rites of the Church.

The museum is located in the lower level and is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-4 p.m. on Sunday. A contribution of $2 per person is requested for admission. The cathedral gift shop also has for sale copies of a CD featuring music from the visit.

The cathedral basilica also offers guided tours weekdays between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., which require a reservation. Tour availability is pending other scheduled events. Call the tour office at (314) 373-8241 for more information. Tours also are available most Sundays after noon Mass, and reservations are not needed unless bringing a large group.

His legacy continues

Read about the impact of St. John Paul II’s legacy on Catholics in St. Louis, as featured in the December/January issue of Catholic St. Louis.

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