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Thousands Attend Pope Mass

January 27, 1999

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Tens of thousands of worshippers filed through metal detectors today, carrying rosaries and crucifixes, eager after waiting in the early morning darkness to hear John Paul II celebrate the only public Mass of his fifth visit to the U.S. mainland.

Inside the Trans World Dome, normally home of the St. Louis Rams, a crowd expected to top 100,000 waved handkerchiefs and flashed pictures of the pontiff as he rode through the complex in his popemobile before Mass.

Earlier, lines several deep wrapped around the dome and adjoining convention center, which were turned into a temporary cathedral for what the St. Louis Archdiocese believed would be the largest indoor gathering ever in the United States. Many inside would see the service on 12 large-screen televisions, or Jumbotrons.

``We’re in the nose-bleed seats, but I figure that means we’re closer to heaven,″ said Carol Houska of south St. Louis County. She arrived at her bus stop at 4:20 a.m. for the commute downtown.

The pope’s 30-hour visit to the American heartland kept up a mission begun in Mexico to rally his flock against a ``culture of death″ as the church heads into the new millennium. He is to return to Rome tonight.

John Paul was welcomed Tuesday night like a rock star by a crowd of 20,000, young people, whom he warned against drifting into a world ``filled with darkness″ and rife with violence, drugs and easy sex.

``You are each called to be a disciple of Christ,″ he told a jubilant young crowd at Kiel Center sports arena, where his somber message sharply contrasted with his listeners’ shrieks of excitement. The crowd waved white handkerchiefs in welcome, chanting, ``John Paul II, we love you.″

``He’s just such an incredible role model, someone you can really look up to,″ said Sarah Einhorn, 14, of Effingham, Ill.

Sports were a metaphor for his message, and the youths presented him with a hockey jersey that read: ``John Paul II No. 1.″

``I am told there was much excitement in St. Louis during the recent baseball season, when two great players, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, were competing to break the home run record,″ he told the young people. ``You can feel the same great enthusiasm as you train for a different goal _ the goal of following Christ, the goal of bringing his message to the world.″

He turned somber when describing ``the darkness of children who go hungry and even die. The darkness of homeless people of who lack work and proper medical care. The darkness of violence.″

``There is something terribly wrong when so many people are overcome by hopelessness to the point of taking their own lives,″ the pope said. Instead, he said, ``Do not listen to those who encourage you to lie, to shirk responsibility. Do not listen to those who tell you that chastity is passe.″

The 78-year-old pope appeared tired, his shoulders slumping, during the evening event. His message contained a familiar theme _ that Americans should use their freedoms responsibly and strive for a higher moral standard.

The pope is also a leading opponent of capital punishment and has intervened in several cases in the United States. Missouri’s Supreme Court, without explanation, postponed an execution that was to have taken place while the pope was in town. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called the postponement ``a mockery.″

During previous visits to the United States, home to 62 million Roman Catholics, the pope has spoken out against American materialism and consumerism.

At an airport arrival ceremony Tuesday, John Paul avoided certain sources of tension with the United States and dropped from the advance text of his speech any mention of land mines, drug trafficking or U.S. airstrikes against Iraq, something the Vatican has assailed as ``aggression.″

Later, during a private 20-minute meeting between Clinton and the pope, abortion only ``came up in passing″ and the Monica Lewinsky affair not at all, White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said. The two did discuss Cuba and Iraq, Navarro-Valls said.

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