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'The Pope Will Lead the Way'

September 13, 1987

What a shame! Arizona State University hides its sun-devil mascot "from papal view"! I share The Times hesitancy (Editorial, Aug. 27) to believe that Pope John Paul II might be offended by the playful imp. The truth of the matter is, Sparky would have made His Holiness feel right at home!

Impish, roguish, grotesque little devils--some of them eating the heads of little children--adorn most of the cathedrals of Europe--including the Pope's own St. Peter's. The devils are called gargoyles and they form the spouts of the cathedral's roof gutters, ready to spew out rain water over the land. Medieval designers put them there to fool the real devils, who were always on the lookout for people and churches to possess.

As a churchman steeped in tradition, as well as a well-educated European with a good sense of humor, Pope John Paul II may have welcomed the presence of Sparky guarding the stadium while he celebrated Mass.

Silly as the issue is, it is a glaring indication of the myopic provincialism of much of our "American-way" thinking: As we interpret a symbol or a situation, so must the rest of the world.

Your editorial paralleled the issue of ASU's ban-on-Sparky with the temporary banishment of the homeless from the shadow of St. Vibiana's during Pope John II's visit here, which brings to mind a similar cultural difference. I remember the shock of some American students visiting St. Peter's Cathedral in Vatican City, upon seeing an elderly Italian peasant-woman sitting in the church's chairs--(like most European cathedrals, St. Peter's has no pews)--pulling hunks of bread from a loaf while she downed wine straight from the bottle. Swiss Guards thought nothing of it; many of her neighbors had brought similar lunches with them--and they all yelled and cheered when the Pope entered, as if they were in a football stadium . . .

. . . Which brings us right back to thoughts of the Sun Devil Stadium. Now that university officials have taken away Sparky (and probably outlawed picnic lunches if they've thought of it), are they going to outlaw the raucous cheers that the stadium--like the Vatican--was designed to echo?

Pope John Paul II indeed may think he has flown to a very strange planet!



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