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Lasting Images of Pope’s Visit: Joyous Nuns, Tearful Mothers

October 9, 1995

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Joyous nuns emerging from convents after decades of isolation. Eighty-thousand people enduring hours of driving rain to celebrate Mass in a football stadium.

And a mother barely holding back her tears when his hand touched her mentally disabled son.

Those are the images that linger from Pope John Paul II’s fourth U.S. pilgrimage.

In stadium Masses and cathedral addresses during his five-day visit, the pope returned to familiar themes of his papacy, urging America to rid itself of the ``moral blight″ of abortion and euthanasia, and to work on behalf of the poor, the disabled, the elderly and people with AIDS.

In a homily not far from the Statue of Liberty, the pope encouraged a nation that is pondering immigration limits and welfare cuts to welcome those seeking freedom and to serve the needy.

On Sunday, the pontiff urged the faithful to heed America’s founding fathers and bring religious convictions to bear on political issues.

``Democracy needs virtue, if it is not to turn against everything that it is meant to defend and encourage,″ he said at Baltimore-Washington Airport, where he was seen off by Vice President Al Gore. ``Democracy stands or falls with the truths and values which it embodies and promotes.″

The most lasting impressions of the pope’s visit were not his words _ polls show many U.S. Catholics disagree with him on issues ranging from birth control to women priests _ but his gentle presence: a stoop-shouldered 75-year-old man believed by many in his 60 million-member U.S. flock to be the vicar of Christ on Earth.

From Central Park, where 130,000 worshipers began gathering at dawn in a natural open-air cathedral, to Giants Stadium, where 88,000 worshipers braved torrential downpours, there rose a familiar chant: ``John Paul II, we love you.″

``After today, if nothing else exciting or wonderful happens in my life, I will die a fulfilled man,″ said 76-year-old Edward Pietro of Toms River, N.J.

At Oriole Park on Sunday, 300 gospel singers waved yellow and white Vatican flags and sang the spiritual ``I Want to be Ready When Jesus Comes.″ The stadium had not rocked to such cheers since Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of playing in 2,130 straight games.

``This is Number 1,″ said Walter Gentile, an Orioles’ usher. Ripken’s record-breaking game last month? ``That’s Number 2.″

Later Sunday, a crowd police estimated at 350,000 watched the pontiff travel through downtown streets in the popemobile.

John Paul, who will begin the 18th year of his papacy next week, began his U.S. trip Wednesday accompanied by President Clinton. His opening words to America echoed Paul VI’s 1965 appeal to the United Nations: ``No more war, war never again.″

The next day, in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, the pontiff urged rich nations to give more help to the world’s poor. He also called on all member countries to avoid the dangers of extreme nationalism and become an authentic force for peace.

In his departure speech on Sunday, the pope urged the nation to be a model of democracy by respecting life in all stages of development.

``I say to you again, America, in light of your own tradition: Love life, cherish life, defend life, from conception to natural death.″

But the speeches are not what Ramon Damian will remember most about the pope’s visit.

Damian, a Mexican immigrant, and his wife and two children were among 20 people sharing a chicken casserole with the pope Sunday at the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

His reaction to the pope?

``God came to me today.″

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