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St. Louis prepares for papal visit
Pamela Schaeffer

St. Louis is gearing up for a historic visit by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 26 and 27.

Responding to an invitation from his friend Archbishop Justin Rigali, the pope will stop in St. Louis after a four-day trip to Mexico. Since Rigali, a Vatican insider, was appointed archbishop of St. Louis in 1994, he has been hoping to lure the pope to St. Louis, according to news reports there.

Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, archbisop of Cracow, Poland, in 1969, but a visit ot the city by a reigning pope is a first.

In Mexico, the pope will present his published response to talks at the Special Synod for America, held in Rome last fall. He is expected to celebrate Mass for 5 million people in Mexico City.

In St. Louis, he will celebrate Mass for some 90,000 people at the Trans World Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams. The pope will also take part in three motorcades, speak during a daylong youth gathering and conduct an ecumenical prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

President Bill Clinton will greet the pope and speak privately with him on his arrival in St. Louis.

The chalice the pope will use in the St. Louis Mass was used in three Masses celebrated 300 years ago, in 1698, on the banks of the Mississippi River in an area that is now part of the city. The Masses were celebrated by three French-Canadian priests, missionaries to the Cahokia Indians.

Rigali has asked area families to prepare for the pope’s visit by fasting or abstaining from meat during the Fridays of Advent; participating in Eucharistic adoration and prayer for vocations; attending Mass Dec. 27, the Feast of the Holy Family; joining in daily prayer for families, the pope and the church; and participating in pro-life activites, including reciting a rosary for life, during the week of Jan. 17-22. He has also asked Catholic schools to close during the papal visit.

St. Louis public schools, anticipating traffic congestion, will close Jan. 27.

The Missouri Supreme Court announced Nov. 12 that the execution of convicted murderer Darrell J. Mease, 42, will be changed from Jan. 27 to Feb. 12. The change, announced without comment, is widely assumed to be due to the pope’s opposition to capital punishment.

Rita Linhardt, spokeswoman for the Missouri Catholic conference in Jefferson City, Mo., told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the conference views the date change as irrelevant. “We would be opposed to the execution regardless of whether the pope was in town,” Linhardt said.

Rigali, former secretary to the Congregation of Bishops, worked at the Vatican for more than 25 years before his appointment to St. Louis. He has served as the pop’s English translator, worked on the Vatican diplomatic staff and traveled with the pope on four continents.

National Catholic Reporter, December 18, 1998