Pope Pleads for Peace at U.N., Holds Open-Air Mass at Giants Stadium
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Pope John Paul II implored the United Nations to overcome extreme nationalism and wipe away the ``tears of the century,″ then brought his message of hope Thursday to tens of thousands of followers at a football stadium.
Despite hours of steady rain, more than 80,000 people showed up at Giants Stadium, many standing in rain slickers and all waving or cheering as the pontiff slowly circled the field in his popemobile.
``This is the most important day of my life. I cannot describe to you how important it is to be here,″ 76-year-old Edward Pietro of Toms River said. ``After today, if nothing else exciting or wonderful happens in my life, I will die a fulfilled man.″
Earlier Thursday, the pope urged the United Nations to be an authentic force for peace.
``The United Nations Organization needs to rise more and more above the cold status of an administrative institution and to become a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home,″ he told the 185-member General Assembly.
The pope’s visit during the United Nations’ 50th anniversary year was the central point of his fourth pilgrimage to the United States. The organization is deeply in debt, in part because of its expanded peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and elsewhere, and John Paul wants to see its strengthened.
But that meeting like the other events since the pope’s arrival Wednesday was for a small group of dignitaries and invited guests. It was here in Giants Stadium that masses of the faithful could see the man many believe is the vicar of Christ on Earth.
Among them was Donna Tellicano, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She came hoping that the pope would touch her and miraculously cure her.
``I believe in miracles,″ she said.
Andrew DiDomenico, a 24-year-old bagel baker from Clifton, came because ``God wanted me to be here.″
``I was here in the rain for quite a few Grateful Dead shows. I was here for that, I should be here for this,″ he said.
Members of the 500-voice choir stood outside in the driving rain, insisting they were in good spirits.
``We have been practicing by singing `Singing in the Rain,′ and `Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head,′ ″ Sister Marie King of the Sisters of Charity in Lyndhurst said.
Even at the austere U.N. headquarters alongside New York’s East River, the papal visit evoked a warmth rare in such formal surroundings.
As the 75-year-old pontiff approached the main entrance, U.N. employees stood on furniture and hopped up and down with cameras raised over their heads. Their chants of ``John Paul II, we love you″ echoed through the stone and glass hall.
Children from the United Nations International School, many dressed in clothing that reflected their ethnic backgrounds, greeted the pope in the lobby. One child held a papier-mache white dove. The pope lifted the symbol of peace and asked the children to ``pray for ... humanity.″
John Paul sketched the dramatic changes since he last addressed the assembly in 1979 _ the fall of Communism and cuts in nuclear arsenals.
Now, he stressed, the danger stems from a ``narrow and exclusive nationalism,″ which triggered ``a true nightmare of violence and terror,″ most recently during ethnic slaughter in Rwanda and Bosnia.
``Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism,″ John Paul said.
In an unusual move, the pontiff cut large parts from his printed text as he delivered the speech, including an appeal for developing countries to promote human rights and kick out corrupt dictators, and an attack on religious fundamentalism.
The cuts were made to save time, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said, noting that each delegate was given the entire text.
John Paul made his speech in English, French, Russian and Spanish and delivered greetings in Arabic and Chinese, receiving a 45-second standing ovation at the conclusion.
Touching on a theme he raised during a trip to Africa last month, the pope said developing countries often face ``a situation of de facto economic dependence on other countries. Such situations offend the conscience of humanity and pose a formidable moral challenge to the human family.″
``We have within us the capacities for wisdom and virtue,″ he continued. ``And in doing so, we shall see that the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new springtime of the human spirit.″
At other stops during his four-hour stay at U.N. headquarters, the pontiff dedicated a plaque to U.N. personnel killed while on peacekeeping duty or on humanitarian missions, and addressed the organization’s staff.
John Paul’s trip runs through Sunday night, and is to include huge Masses in Central Park in Manhattan and Aqueduct Race Track and at Camden Yards baseball stadium in Baltimore.