A look back at Pope John Paul II’s visit to Philadelphia in 1979

 In this Oct. 3, 1979 file photo Pope John Paul II performs an outdoor mass for a huge audience at Logan Circle in Philadelphia.  (AP file photo)

In this Oct. 3, 1979 file photo Pope John Paul II performs an outdoor mass for a huge audience at Logan Circle in Philadelphia. (AP file photo)

Thirty-six years after Pope John Paul II arrived in Philadelphia to much fanfare, the city is once again preparing for a papal visit. Of course, things are a little different this time around.

Monsignor Louis D’Addezio, who is now retired, was in charge of coordinating the arrival and transportation details of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.

“I was the point man and I would go ahead of the entourage. I would go there first to make sure everything was OK, so that was my job,” he said. 

Flipping through an album full of fading photos from the visit, the Monsignor recalled what it was like to see the Holy Father step off the plane in Philadelphia.

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“I was very, very fortunate with that because when he came down from the plane, I was really the first one to meet him at the bottom of the steps,” he said.

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Monsignor Louis D’Addezio looking through albums from the 1979 papal visit. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

It was a different time too, of course, when it came to security. No traffic boxes. No fences. D’Addezio knows in a post Sept. 11 world, these things just can’t be the same, but he hopes everyone walks away from this visit with the same fond memories he has from seventy-nine.

“Anybody could come, there was no such thing as a ticket you had to have to come onto Logan Circle. And I’m sure anyone who was there remembers that and they were thrilled by it,” he said.

Rocco Casciato of South Philly remembers lining up along Broad Street to catch a glimpse of the papal motorcade pass by.

“We waited for hours when Pope John Paul came on Broad Street and he rode by like this — zip — he went by like 90 miles an hour,” he said.

Casciato said he plans to head to the festivities again this time around. It doesn’t matter to him how close he gets to Pope Francis.

“Whatever I see, I see. As long as [Pope Francis] knows in his heart that somewheres out there there’s Rocco. ‘Hey wait where’s Rocco?’ He’s somewhere out there!'”


Pope John Paul II, in white, and Cardinal John Krol wave to the welcoming crowd as their motorcade passes City Hall in downtown Philadelphia, Pa., Oct. 3, 1979. Thousands of people lined the streets to see the Pontiff. (AP Photo)

The security around Pope Francis will make this trip less intimate than Pope John Paul II’s trip though, according to Temple University professor of religion Terry Rey. On that trip, for example, John Paul II celebrated Mass in the basement of the Shrine of St. John Neumann instead of the better known, more ornate, ground level shrine. To many area Catholics, it was a sign the Holy Father was one of them.

“That meant a lot to many Catholics in this city. We felt as if we could really connect with him as someone who said Mass, he entered a basement sanctuary. Every large Catholic Church in this city has a basement sanctuary and that’s where we often go to Mass,” said Rey.

Rey explained basement Masses are common because that level, with lower ceilings and smaller rooms is easier to air condition or heat. 

The trip also comes at a critical time for the Catholic church in the country, and the city, said Rey.

“Dozens of parishes have closed including the first Polish Catholic parish in Philadelphia, St. Laurentius,” said Rey. “John Paul II was Polish and to see that church close was heartbreaking. That, to me signals doom for the church, really it does, and for Catholic identity in Philadelphia.”

Still, Rey said he is looking forward to seeing what Pope Francis, a church leader he finds inspirational, has to say on his visit to the city.

“John Paul said things that literally changed the world for people and Pope Francis is doing the same thing. They share in that. So I see them as kindred spirits and I see them as pontiffs that are moving the church forward in very important ways.”

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