ENCORE: Young people from diocese see Pope at youth gathering

Pope John Paul II — Visit to St. Louis, Mo., Jan. 26-26, 1999


SCROLL THE ARROWS to see additional photos, including archival photos of the Papal Youth Gathering from The Catholic Missourian. 

Upon arriving at the Light of the World Papal Youth Gathering in St. Louis, Pope John Paul II encountered a spiritually wired throng of more than 20,000 young people whose spirits and emotions had been elevated beyond ecstasy.

Seven hundred fifty young people from the Diocese of Jefferson City occupied Sections 331-332 at the Kiel Center and spilled out into adjacent sections during the spiritual spectacle of high-energy music, dance and flashing lights. Another approximately 250 from the diocese took in the festivities in the bustling “Papal Plaza” outside the building.

And then the Pope came.

“Let it be the best welcome he’s seen in the world!” cried Master of Ceremonies Steve Angrisano of Denver, near the beginning of the daylong gathering.

A spike of roaring applause punctuated the building as the scoreboard video screens and Jumbotron televisions flickered the Holy Father’s arrival at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The young people listened through the Pope’s welcoming remarks, erupting into lauder applause with his closing words, “God bless you all, and God bless America!”

Gradually, as the day progressed, came the realization that the Pope was coming ... here ... and soon!

On the Kiel stage, young people elicited cheers with personal testimony about chastity, personal commitment, and not giving up on God. A Passionist sister talked about her goal reassessment that led her to Consecrated Life.

Mr. Angrisano led a sing-along of “Pharaoh, Pharaoh!” — a take-off on the rock ’n roll song, “Louie, Louie.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, a touring lecturer who has been sharing John Paul II’s message of chastity to young people for the past 12 years, said the Pope’s airplane “had like 1,000 square miles of grace behind it, and it fell over the city when he landed.”

APEX!, a duo of juggling youth evangelists who entertained the young people at the Diocese of Jefferson City’s 1998 youth rally, told stories while committing progressively more impressive acts of airborne ambidexterity.

Singer Rebecca St. James mellowed out the crowd with a breathy rendition of “O Come, O Come Emanuel,” followed by a vocally acrobatic set of contemporary Christian tunes.

“God’s way works,” she told the crowd. “We can’t afford to go any way but his.”

More than 100 priests administered the Sacrament of Reconciliation in temporary booths in the building’s bustling concourses.

Father Stan Fortuna CFR sang and preached with rhyme, rhythm and alliteration.

“Pray if you want to feel the power!” he shouted.

Youth from the Diocese of Jefferson City seemed particularly enthusiastic with the intensely energetic performance by a Christian rock band called D.C. Talk. The young people leapt to their feet and joined in with the band’s extended rendition of the popular song, “Lean On Me.”

Before playing an original song called “Jesus Freaks,” D.C. Talk singer Toby McKeehan referred to one of “freak’s” many definitions in the dictionary: “an ardent enthusiast.”

“We ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of Jesus freaks!” he shouted as the audience screamed.

An unannounced visit by Bishop Gaydos to the diocese’s block in the Kiel mezzanine elicited a standing ovation from the youth of the diocese, followed by a “me and bishop” photo frenzy.

Following D.C. Talk’s closing number, “Let the River Flow,” Mr. Angrisano pleaded with the audience to let the excitement and message of the gathering and the Pope’s visit change their lives.

“It’s just GOT to go out there with us!” he said. “You just CAN’T leave it. You’ve got to walk out of here and live it!”

Twenty thousand yellow and white bandanas twirled to the beat of countless choruses of “Cry the Gospel,” the theme song specially written by Tom Booth for the Pope’s visit.

The Pope was delayed about 45 minutes, during which time Mr. Angrisano and members of the day’s performing acts presided over an impromptu rally that brought the collective mindset to within a few degrees of the boiling point.

The young people cheered and sang as the screens flashed live shots of the Pope’s motorcade through the route once traveled by a triumphant Charles Lindbergh after his legendary transcontinental flight.

“The Pope is in the building!” Mr. Angrisano announced as the young people roared with delight and the TVs beamed record-breaking St. Louis Cardinal homerun-hitter Mark McGwire kissing the Pope’s ring.

The arena erupted into a giant blue-white flash as thousands of camera fired while the Pope progressed slowly down the center aisle.

“All these people want to tell you how happy they are to be here with you and to have you with them,” Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. louis told his old friend, Pope John Paul II.

The crowd’s youthful exuberance was contagious, even for a man three times the median age.

“Praised be Jesus Christ,” the Pope began. “Your welcome makes me feel very happy. Trust me that tonight, the Pope belongs to you!”

Feeling at home in a building usually used for St. Louis Blues hockey games and other sports events, the Pope called on the young people to train spiritually, “to live your faith in Christ, to give yourselves fully to the Lord without reserve, and to do the work he asks you to do.

“Christians are always in training,” he said. “Each one of you belongs to Christ, and Christ belongs to you.”

The Pope challenged them to attend Mass every Sunday and to become active in their parishes. He called on them to share their special talents with Christ’s Church.

“Even though you are young, the time for action is now,” the Pope said. “He wants all of you to be lights to the world as only young people can be lights. ... Christ is calling you, the Church needs you, the Pope believes in you and expects great things from you.”

The young people gave the Pope three gifts: a mitre for him to war, a hockey stick, and a St. Louis Blues hockey jersey with the name “John Paul II” and the number “1” sewn onto it.

“If the Pope is coming back to play hockey, maybe he’s going to be around for a while, after all,” Pope John Paul II said.