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John Paul II at Aqueduct: A Preacher Flanked by Tote Boards

October 6, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ At a racetrack where bettors pray merely for luck, the Holy Father prayed Friday for American fathers, asking that they raise the children they bring into the world.

And in a city that largely worships power, fame and wealth, Pope John Paul II prayed for love for the weak, the poor, the forgotten.

An estimated 75,000 people jammed Aqueduct’s stands, infield and track to celebrate the first sunny day of a papal visit that began Wednesday at a misty Newark Airport.

``Yesterday evening, very strong rain,″ the pope greeted his Aqueduct congregation, referring to his Mass at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. ``Today, very strong wind.″

The gusts whipped the green, white and yellow canvas above the altar and blew the fountains in the infield ponds. The pope’s white robes billowed in the 25 mph wind that also forced him to discard his white skullcap.

Thursday’s rain was water, symbol of new life, he said; Friday’s wind ``a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit.″

Later, the pope flew to Yonkers to address seminarians about one of his favorite themes: the importance of attracting and training more priests.

The future priests eagerly awaited their leader. ``He means you’re following in the footsteps of Peter,″ said Stephen Donnelly, 40, of Huntington. ``When I look at the Holy Father, I see church.″

In his racetrack homily, the pope declared that affluent, high-tech America must protect traditional family values, culturally and legally.

Children, he said, have a right ``to grow up in a family in which, as far as possible, both parents are present. Fathers of families must accept their full share of responsibility for the lives and upbringing of their children. Both parents must spend time with their children.″

The congregation broke into applause at his words _ an unusual outburst during Mass.

The pope also stressed ``the mystery of divine love″ _ and love of those who need it most.

Despite America’s advantages, he said, ``not everyone here is powerful; not everyone here is rich. In fact, America’s sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty.″

The pope, who has often decried the corruption of modern society, asked: ``Have the people living in this huge metropolis lost sight of the blessings which belong to the poor in spirit? In the midst of the magnificent scientific and technological civilization of which America is proud ... is there room for the mystery of God?″

A helicopter carrying the pope from Manhattan landed on the infield of the track in Queens, where the crowd had been waiting for hours, saying the rosary and listening to sacred music.

Mindful of Thursday’s downpour, the faithful came equipped. But as temperatures rose above 80 degrees, slickers were draped over railings and umbrellas became parasols.

Many people abandoned prime seats in the sun to stand under the bleachers in the shade. Paramedics treated 147 people, mostly the elderly, for exhaustion. Fifteen were taken to hospitals, including a 62-year-old woman who suffered a fatal heart attack as she was entering the racetrack just before sunrise.

Health problems were exacerbated by a broken water pipe that shut down the racetrack’s water fountains. People formed long lines for cups of water doled out by police officers from coolers.

``I almost passed out,″ said Tina Petersen, 72, who left her seat in search of water. ``I couldn’t sit anymore.″ But she added: ``You feel like you’re in heaven despite all that.″

The crowd ranged from the Knights of Columbus, resplendent in red and white plumed hats, shiny sashes and dark flowing capes, to the immigrant working people of Brooklyn and Queens, who dressed less flamboyantly and came by subway.

John Cervello came in a wheelchair. He painstakingly spelled out answers to questions with the aid of a computer ``touch talker.″

``I think the world can use all the help it can get,″ he said of John Paul’s visit.

Celebrities such as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attended the Mass, but the day belonged to ordinary Catholics like 2-month-old Tricia Garcia, whose parents dressed her in a pink knit outfit and brought her to receive the pope’s blessing; like Kate Gayron, who lost her father a month ago and came to pray for him; like Diane Hatry, who is converting to Catholicism.

``This is very meaningful to me,″ the teacher explained, ``because it is my beginning.″

The pope is to celebrate Mass in Manhattan’s Central Park on Saturday, then travel to Baltimore on Sunday for another outdoor Mass and several meetings. He leaves for Rome on Sunday night.

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