Under the Spires of Skyscrapers, Pope Celebrates Mass
NEW YORK (AP) _ Central Park was transformed into a giant open-air cathedral Saturday as Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass before a flock of 250,000, urging Americans to stand up for family life and side with the homeless, the disabled and people with AIDS.
``Do not be afraid to search for God. Then it will truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave,″ the pope said at the end of the service. ``God bless America.″
The celebration was the pope’s farewell Mass in the New York region during his five-day U.S. trip, and the city the pontiff describes as ``God’s playground″ did not disappoint.
A gold carpet in the shape of a cross stretched across the Great Lawn, while performers such as Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack and the Boys Choir of Harlem were among the performers who filled the park with sacred music in the muted light of a cloudy October morning. Opera star Placido Domingo sang at Communion.
Beneath the dramatic Manhattan skyline, where the silhouettes of tall buildings seemed to form cathedral spires rising gracefully beyond an expansive border of greenery and trees, the pope celebrated Mass on a majestic stage framed by a cross embroidered with a sea of faces.
Even though the pope appeared no more than a speck on the stage for many, his mere presence was enough for the faithful.
``It feels very important to be in the same park that the pope is in,″ said Anthony Michalik, 42, an actor who showed before dawn for the 9:30 a.m. Mass. ``It definitely gives you a sense of community and a feeling that you are with your brothers and sisters who really love this man.″
Later Saturday, the pontiff was scheduled to recite the rosary at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and meet with Christian and Muslim leaders before holding a separate gathering with Jewish leaders.
On Sunday, the final day of his U.S. visit, the pope will travel to Baltimore, where he is scheduled to celebrate Mass at Camden Yards baseball stadium and meet with the homeless at a soup kitchen.
Some 250,000 people poured into Central Park to hear the Saturday morning service, many arriving in the pitch-black pre-dawn, their paths illuminated by Boy Scouts bearing flashlights.
In his homily, the pope told worshipers to care for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and people suffering with AIDS.
``The man without love has known nothing of God, for God is love,″ the pope told his cheering flock.
He also encouraged Catholics to work and pray against abortion, pornography and euthanasia, themes he has returned to throughout his visit here.
``Stand up for the life of the aged and the handicapped, against attempts to promote assisted suicide and euthanasia,″ the pope declared. ``Stand up for marriage and family life! Stand up for purity!″
The pope, who in previous days had commented on the hard rain and strong wind, referred in part to the drizzly weather at the end of Mass when he said, ``I can see that Americans are not afraid.″
On a more serious note, the pontiff who is often characterized as being critical of America as a selfish, individualistic culture, said Americans ``are generally speaking, a brave, good people.″
His remarks were greeted by shouts of ``Viva el papa″ and the familiar chant: ``John Paul II, we love you!″
This being Central Park, the scene was a mixture of the sacred and profane.
Vendors along the routes into the park hawked pope T-shirts, hats, phone cards, rosaries, CDs and videos.
One fellow on 72nd Street tried to attract customers by shouting: ``All the money goes to the church!″
``Come on,″ yelled back one of the dozens of cops lining the street. ``Tell the truth!″
While waiting to pass through a security check, Franciscan nuns fed sugar cubes to the police horses guarding the barricade. ``Mother superior will wonder what happened to all the sugar in the refectory,″ Sister Clare said, laughing.