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John Paul Talks to Protestant, Jewish Leaders

September 13, 1987|United Press International

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Pope John Paul II, the first Mass of his U.S. tour curtailed by bolts of lightning, flew to the heart of the Bible Belt on Friday to pray with Protestant leaders "for the unity of all Christians."

The Pope's chartered "Shepherd I" airliner landed in Columbia under sunny skies, a welcome relief from the thunderstorm that forced him to stop an outdoor Mass for 230,000 celebrants in Miami's Tamiami Park.

Among the pontiff's activities during his five-hour stop in Columbia was to have been a private meeting with former President Jimmy Carter, but that was canceled when Carter had to rush to the hospital bedside of his cancer-stricken brother, Billy, in Atlanta.

Small Crowd Greets Pope

The difference between heavily Catholic Miami and heavily Protestant Columbia was made clear by the small crowd of 550 people who greeted the Pope when he arrived at St. Peter's Catholic Church for a brief service. No crowds, but small knots of people, stood by as the Popemobile carried the pontiff slowly through downtown Columbia.

The Pope flew on to New Orleans later Friday night.

The Pope met privately with a group of religious leaders from denominations affiliated with the National Council of Churches--which includes none of the fundamentalist television evangelists such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell or the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

Before entering the meeting, he told a crowd of several thousand at the University of South Carolina that it is "the duty of every follower of Christ to work for the unity of all Christians. To desire anything else would be not only a scandal, but a betrayal--a betrayal of the Lord, who himself prayed that his disciples would be one."

But there were no ecumenical breakthroughs in the hourlong meeting at the home of University President James B. Holderman.

The Pope then went on the Williams-Brice Stadium for a "Service of Christian Witness," where he read the Gospel and spoke to a crowd of thousands, many of them bused in from other states to see and hear him.

Meets Jewish Leaders

The Pope began his day with a meeting with a delegation of Jewish leaders upset over several aggravations in relations between Catholics and Jews, chiefly the Vatican's refusal to extend diplomatic relations to Israel, its failure to recognize the Holocaust as a direct attempt to exterminate Jews and the Pope's granting of an audience to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim after his Nazi past was revealed.

In his speech, the Pope said the Nazis sought to exterminate the Jewish people "only because they were Jews"--which the Jewish leaders called a welcome clarification. They also hailed his call for continuing education about the Holocaust in Catholic schools.

They were disappointed, however, that he failed to touch on the Waldheim meeting or offer any hope on diplomatic recognition of Israel.

In Miami, about 5,000 people stayed in the park and stubbornly waited out the storm that grew serious enough to stop the Mass in the middle of the Pope's sermon.

Returns to Speak

John Paul II returned to the altar under soggy, sail-like canopies to speak to those who had braved the storm.

"I was obliged to interrupt the celebration because of the atmospherical circumstances," he told the die-hards.

"We love the Pope," they began chanting. "We love the Pope."

He praised their "resistence and perserverance."

"I cannot express this admiration to myself but to you I am expressing this admiration. "I offer my blessing for the eucharistic sacrifice," he said.

"Muchas gracias, adios," said the Pope with a wave.

"It was wonderful," said Maria Meyer, 39, who toughed out the storm. "What I think it did was to show us how much the Pope cared about the people and how much he loved the people and appreciated how much they wanted to hear him."

Crowd Sings On

The Pope, standing under a white umbrella held by an altar boy, was midway through a sermon directed especially to the thousands of immigrants and refugees in the crowd when the storm intensified. He stopped, and after a few moments of silence the crowd began to sing through the thunderclaps.

Then Archbishop Edward McCarthy stepped forward and told the crowd that the Mass was being cut short for fear of the lightning and asked them to leave the park.

"We ask you to continue your prayers as you go to your homes," he said. "As you go back to your cities, continue to praise the Lord. Thank him for this experience of having the Holy Father with us."

Police estimated the crowd at 230,000, many of whom were there before dawn and some of whom were there long before the Pope arrived in Miami. But nearly all left the park quietly.

After leaving the altar at Tamiami Park, the Pope went into the trailer where he had dressed for the service and finished the Mass with the bishops and cardinals in attendance, then returned to the outdoor altar.

Decision Was Pope's

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