“Watch the doors!” The voice of the frustrated subway conductor bellowed out of the speakers, but the thick crowds trying to push their way on to the train paid no attention. “If you don’t clear the doors I’m going to take this train out of service!” he threatened. But when that had no effect, he added, almost pleadingly, “There’s another train right behind us…You won’t miss the pope!”
I was part of that great pushing throng of New York City Catholics, all of us on our way to Yankee Stadium for Mass with Pope John Paul II. It was October 2, 1979, exactly two weeks shy of the first anniversary of his papal election. A few hours later that evening I stood at my seat on the center field grass and applauded with everyone else as the popemobile carrying the smiling and waving John Paul made its way along the outfield warning track. Handsome, vigorous, his hair blowing in the breeze, a digital watch on his wrist, Pope John Paul was a true media star. Priests around me literally jumped into the air as they shouted and waved back, and nuns squealed with delight, all of the sounds becoming part of a raucous roar that surely topped any heard at a Yankees World Series win.
Then the noisy welcome turned to profound silence as the Mass was about to begin. The pope spread his arms and said, “Let us pray…” The stadium’s poor acoustics did his accented English no favors, but it didn’t really matter if we could understand all the words. The pope was praying, and we all stood there and prayed with him.
As media savvy as Pope John Paul II could be, nothing could top the attraction of this holy man praying. In his years as pope, he prayed in thanks to God, in intercession for the world and for all the world’s people. He prayed in cathedrals and slums, churches and stadiums and open fields. He prayed with Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, and persons of many other faiths. All over the world he touched human hearts by the powerful sense of prayerfulness he brought to everything he did.
As that beatification ceremony unfolded on May 1, I thought about that day at Yankee Stadium and the pope’s powerful words: Let us pray.”