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Pope Finds Dissent in Hamtramck, but Not Much

September 19, 1987

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) _ The love feast prepared for Pope John Paul II in the most Polish city on his American itinerary turned a bit rancorous when protesters greeted the popemobile with banners denouncing him as ″a tool of Satan.″

The three huge anti-pope banners raised by the New Testament Church of Taiwan were wrestled to ground several times by burly parade watchers wearing ″Popestock″ T-shirts, who broke through the police lines with the intention of maintaining the municipal decor in Vatican yellow and white, plus a scattering of red ″Solidarnosc″ signs and placards.

There were shouts of ″go back to Asia where you belong″ and ″this is America, you Commies″ from the crowds storefront-deep along Hamtramck’s main street.

The ″popemobile,″ meanwhile, rolled serenely down the street toward the Acropolis-style altar set up in front of the Playdium bowling alley.

Amid a rising tide of boos, the protesters retreated in the opposite direction along the motorcade route.

″They gotta be all guts or way off the wall to bad-mouth the pope in Hamtramck,″ marveled Ray Brocton, a police reservist brought in from Detroit, which surrounds the blue-collar heartland of American Polonia that was supposed to be the least troublesome papal stop.

Surrounded by a growing cordon of police, Paul Wong and the obviously pregnant Irene Wong, both from New York, held their ground and tattered banners in front of the Campau food market - ″We Accept Welfare Checks″ - while the pontiff, looking off in the direction of Kowalski’s sausage factory, pleaded in Polish for acceptance of a new wave of immigration to America.

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Seemingly the half of Hamtramck’s 20,000 citizens who are not Polish began retreating toward the refreshment stands upon discovering that his talk would not be English. But the sale of pierogi, kielbasa and kapusta (sausage and cabbage) was not brisk, admitted Donna Aleksandrowicz, who was proud of being ″born the day my mother arrived from Poland.″

Overnight rains turned the papal viewing area into a gooey mire, and expectations of a quarter-million spectators, coming from as far afield as Buffalo, N.Y. and Chicago, dwindled to a count of less than 50,000.

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The weather cleared in time for the parade that passed the 12-foot-tall bronze statue of John Paul II, ending at the flower-decked platform in the shadows of the twin smokestacks of the Poletown Cadillac plant.

Nor did the rains dampen the enthusiasm of the local citizenry who unfolded their aluminum chairs along Joseph Campau street at first light. For weeks, as the blackboard outside Lily’s bar indicated, the faithful had maintained a ″papal countdown.″

Lily Karwowski, born in Nowy Dwor, Poland, decided to prolong the joy of the pontiff’s visit with a ″papal polka and rock party″ featuring the ″Soul Poles,″ a local group of ″five Poles and three blacks on guitar and accordion.″

Most of the other 140 liquor licensees within the 2.l square miles of Hamtramck opened hours earlier rather than closing for the papal visit.

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″The pope is the biggest thing ever to happen in Hamtramck,″ said Joe Karpinski, peddling papal beer mugs with a Hamtramck logo. ″Even bigger than when Joe Paterno sat in our kitchen and over a beer and a kolbasi persuaded my brother Keith to play linebacker at Penn State. He’s in the starting lineup today.″

Karpinski remembered a day in 1969 ″when this Polish cardinal visited our second-grade class at St. Ladislaus’s school and the nun told him someday he would be pope.″

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Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was in the front row at Hamtramck for the pontifical blessing, coming at a timely moment in a hot race with the Toronto Blue Jays. ″Today we call him Andersonski,″ laughed Ron Kopecky from behind a vendor’s stand offering ″sausage and lettuce-pray subs,″ as the hero sandwich is called here.

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Under a huge ″Witamy Swietego Papieza″ (Welcome, the Holy Pope) banner fluttering from a balcony next to Orlikowski’s funeral parlor, Sister Mary Choiniere of the order of St. Joseph offered an explanation for the low turnout.

″A lot of old people stayed home when they saw that mudhole in front of the platform on TV,″ she said. ″Hamtramck has a big elderly population. We average 12 funerals a month. That’s why there are so many undertakers.″

Sister Mary was in tears when the bells of Hamtramck’s four Catholic churches tolled the departure of his motorcade.

″We may never see him again,″ she lamented, then suddenly brightened. ″But what a day this has been at St. Florian’s convent. We had 39 nuns from all over, sleeping on couches, some in sleeping bags on the floor. But all got up at 4 a.m. for choir practice as soon as they smelled that coffee brewing.″

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