Page 5, 7th August 1987

7th August 1987
Page 5
Page 5, 7th August 1987 — Pope not typical Florida tourist

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By Alan Mcelwain

Page 7 from 28th June 1963

Pope not typical Florida tourist

It Pope Pius XII had arrived in Miami on September 11, 1947, 40 years to the day before the scheduled visit of Pope John Paul II, he would have found himself in the Diocese of St Augustine.

Many who will greet John Paul II this autumn can remember a different Florida of 40 years ago, when the Roman Catholic Church in the state was relatively small and scattered.

There would have been few bets on the creation, only 11 years later, of a Miami diocese or its upgrading into an archdiocese in 1968.

Pope Pius XII almost certainly would have felt the impact of anti-Catholic sentiment, possibly including a demonstration by the Ku Klux Klan.

This year's papal visitor is more likely to face demonstations by Roman Catholics calling for the ordination of women, already a success in the Episcopal Church.

Pope John Paul II will land in a Florida heavily populated by Catholics, including many who fled Cuba with dioceses in Orlando, St Petersburg, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Palm Beach and Venice.

In the aftermath of television church scandals, the visiting Pope will face possible questions about Vatican bank scandals and the lifestyles of some prelates, about the monarchia structure of the Roman Catholic Church, about positions on human sexuality that some of his communicants compare to earlier denal of the Copernican theory of a sun-centred planetary system.

Others will protest the papal visit on the grounds that its cost, conservatively estimated at $20 million, is an affront to the poor. Should Christ's church, some ask, spend $2 million a day on this sophisticated version of a travelling revival?

Many believe a papal visit is worth whatever it costs. Many are exasperated by the threatened demonstrations, convinced that calls for women's ordination, democracy and accountability in the church, a less rigid view of human sexuality and other changes in Roman Catholic practices are, literally, the werk of the devil.

It is an enormously popular world figure who will celebrate Mass in Miami's Tamiami Park on September 11, then go on to Columbia SC, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Carmel/Monterey California, San Francisco and finally Detroit on September 19.

Yet Pope John Paul II remains the kind of powerful world figure Stalin could not comprehend when he made his famous inquiry: How many divisions has the Pope?

Stalin's successors know that this Pope, who was the Archbishop of Cracow, has a greater long-term influence on his native Poland than does any figure in the communist government.

They know that a cardinal, Jaime Sin, had more to do with the eventual collapse of the Marcos regime than did the remarkable woman who succeeded Ferdinand Marcos as president of the Philippines.

I first met Cracow's Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1976 when, in tentative English and through interpreters, he asked me many questions about contemporary communication methods.

I was standing in St Peter's Square when the announcement came that Cardinal Wojtyla had been chosen to succeed John Paul I. As soon as I heard his name I knew that this vigorous man, a skilled political figure in his native land who knew firsthand the ways of the world, would leave a powerful mark on the religious and political activities of his church.

At the time, I wrote of his conservative views and his brilliance in communications. He will bring those views and that brilliance to the United States in the fall. He believes they will outperform and outlast the efforts of any demonstrators.

After all, a man who can stare down a commissar or a premier with one eye closed (or is that a wink?), who will be met in Miami by the president of the United States, who hears himself called "Your Holiness," whose followers number nearly four times the population of the United States, is not going to be jarred by placards in the crowds.

In Iowa, they may still be paying for his 1979 visit, and in Monterey parishes may have to pay as much as $25 a ticket, but it is perhaps an inevitable expression of spirituality in the era of the communication satellite.

A E P Wall of Mims is director of a Catholic publishing company and a contributor to the recently published book, If I Were Pope.

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