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Pope John Paul Says Palm Sunday Mass for Nearly a Million

April 13, 1987

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Nearly a million cheering people waved olive branches and palm fronds in a joyous greeting to Pope John Paul II, the first modern pontiff to celebrate the Palm Sunday Mass outside Rome.

On his last day of a two-week South American pilgrimage, the pope led the Roman Catholic ceremony from an altar on a canopied platform three stories above the 360-foot-wide Ninth of July Avenue running through this capital.

Later Sunday, the pope told Roman Catholic leaders of the Argentine Episcopal Conference that the church acted courageously during Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship.

″I know of your constant efforts and preocupation in difficult moments, in the violence that caused profound pain and death,″ John Paul said. ″I know that your courageous endeavors saved lives.″

Human rights activists have accused the church of remaining too silent during the seven-year dictatorship, when the military waged a harsh campaign against suspected leftists. A government commission said at least 9,000 people disappeared after being picked up by security forces. Human rights groups place the number at 30,000 and say thousands were killed.

The pope later spoke at the Teatro Colon opera house about the value of culture. In the audience of 2,500 were actors, artists, writers and two Argentine Nobel Prize winnters - Luis Federico Leloir who won the chemistry award in 1970 and human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 peace prize.

He then went to Ezeiza International Airport and boarded a jetliner for the 13-hour flight to Rome, ending his latest tour that included stops in Uruguay and Chile before Argentina.

At the Sunday Mass, in a scene evocative of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the pope passed through a cleared space between the throngs to cheers of ″Viva El Papa″ - ″Long Live the Pope 3/8″

But where the Bible has Jesus and his followers arriving on donkeys, John Paul rode in a white, bullet-proof ″popemobile″ to the foot of a red- carpeted ramp leading up to the platform.

Confetti and shredded newspaper rained down from apartment balconies and office windows along the avenue.

Wearing his tall, white-and-gold bishop’s miter, the pope walked to the altar preceded by cardinals dressed, like him, in crimson, gold-embroider ed robes. Behind them came dark-suited Vatican security men.

Argentine army commandos in black berets and orange jumpsuits stood guard at the altar’s corners.

John Paul, carrying a braided palm frond tied with red-ribbon bows, paused to wave at the crowd as he walked up the ramp to the plain altar draped in white cloth.

The pope began dedicating Palm Sunday as World Youth Day two years ago. Organizers of the event in Buenos Aires said that by Saturday, about 60,000 young people from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and the rest of South America had come to the Argentine capital specifically to spend the weekend with John Paul.

President Raul Alfonsin was one of the almost 1 million people estimated to have attended the Palm Sunday Mass.

In his sermon Sunday, the pope thanked the young people for their enthusiasm and told them to ″put your youthful energies to work in constructing a civilization of love,″ based on human dignity.

Most of the young people in the crowd had spent the night in the street, staying straight through from a sermon the pope gave Saturday night. At the pope’s invitation toward the end of the Mass, the people exchanged a sign of peace. Some shook hands. Others embraced or kissed, as guitarists led the crowd in singing.

The crowd spilled along about 25 blocks along the avenue, whose towering central obelisk is featured on postcards of Buenos Aires.

″It is very important to see the pope on World Youth Day,″ said Marcela Zas, a 20-year-old student who last week had seen John Paul during his appearance in Bahia Blanca, 420 miles to the southeast. She said she made the journey to the capital with her friends because, ″It’s a kind of commitment for young people.″

As policemen inspected purses and shopping bags of people heading toward the avenue, one woman snapped off a piece of her olive branch and gave it to an officer. He stuck it under his cap.

Police said Sunday a 1-pound bomb damaged a downtown statue of Christopher Columbus on Saturday night four blocks from a sports arena where the pope spoke hours earlier. The pope was resting 20 blocks away in the Papal Nunciature when the bomb went off.

No one was injured and no group claimed responsibility for the bomb.

The pope’s stay in Argentina was virtually free of political turmoil, in contrast with the violence-marred days spent in military-ruled Chile.

Even so, anti-pope graffiti appeared on downtown walls before John Paul arrived in Buenos Aires last Monday.

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