Nineteen years ago today, Pope John Paul II was in the midst of a pastoral visit to the United States and the United Nations. On October 7, 1995, he celebrated Mass in Central Park in New York City, with a crowd of over 100,000 people gathered. I was there and remember it fondly.
I especially remember the Pope’s homily (full text here), which was well done, simple, and engaging. It was primarily directed to young people. Here’s a nugget:
Like Mary, you must not be afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to help you become intimate friends of Christ. Like Mary, you must put aside any fear, in order to take Christ to the world in whatever you do—in marriage, as single people in the world, as students, as workers, as professional people. Christ wants to go to many places in the world, and to enter many hearts, through you. Just as Mary visited Elizabeth, so you too are called to “visit” the needs of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, those who are alone or ill; for example those suffering from AIDS. You are called to stand up for life! To respect and defend the mystery of life always and everywhere, including the lives of unborn babies, giving real help and encouragement to mothers in difficult situations. You are called to work and pray against abortion, against violence of all kinds, including the violence done against women’s and children’s dignity through pornography. Stand up for the life of the aged and the handicapped, against attempts to promote assisted-suicide and euthanasia! Stand up for marriage and family life! Stand up for purity! Resist the pressures and temptations of a world that too often tries to ignore a most fundamental truth: that every life is a gift from God our Creator, and that we must give an account to God of how we use it either for good or evil.
(Now that’s a seamless garment approach!)
But the most memorable part of the homily was when the Pope broke into song. As he reflected on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary (the day being the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary), he recalled a Polish Christmas hymn:
I remember a song I used to sing in Poland as a young man, a song which I still sing as Pope, which tells about the birth of the Savior. On Christmas night, in every church and chapel, this song would ring out, repeating in a musical way the story told in the Gospel. It says: “In the silence of the night, a voice is heard: ‘Get up, shepherds, God is born for you! Hurry to Bethlehem to meet the Lord.'”
He started out the part by reciting the words to the hymn, translated into English as in the prepared homily, but after he’d read them, he looked up from his paper and simply broke into song, singing it in Polish to the crowd! (Very disappointing that there is not a video of this available on YouTube.) I know it took a few seconds for the crowd to realize: He’s singing to us!
He finished and then continued on with his homily, noting, “The same story is told in the beautiful hymn, ‘Silent Night,’ which everyone knows. That is a hymn which moves us deeply by reminding us that Jesus, the Son of God, was born of Mary, born to make us holy and to make us adopted sons and daughters of God. It is a hymn to the creative power of the Holy Spirit. It is a song to help us not to be afraid.”
And then, wonderfully, when he brought his homily to a conclusion, the entire, massive crowd gathered there with him in Central Park spontaneously broke into song, singing Silent Night to the Pope.
What a wonderful moment. Nineteen years ago today.
Happy feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.