Pope John Paul II, beginning a two-day visit to the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, landed in Los Angeles on Tuesday and repeatedly urged his followers to yield not to the temptations so often found in this capital of popular culture.
Welcomed by a warmly enthusiastic but smaller-than-expected crowd of between 150,000 and 250,000 that lined a 7.2-mile motorcade route, the Pope enjoyed an almost flawlessly planned day, delayed only by slow security checks at a huge evening Mass.
Surprisingly, Los Angeles motorists also had few distractions. The low turnout for the mid-morning motorcade--about one-tenth the size that officials of the Los Angeles archdiocese had hoped for--allowed traffic on downtown freeways and streets to function normally.
On a day that took him from the fast-growing Asian neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles to the glitter of Universal City to the Memorial Coliseum, the Pope time and again brandished the same message: resist the corrosions of the secular world.
To 1,200 people inside St. Vibiana's Cathedral, he urged Catholics to uphold traditional morality even at the expense of ridicule--a task that he acknowledged was difficult in a society "that is indifferent, if not hostile, to Christian morality."
To 6,000 exuberant youths at the Universal Amphitheater, who greeted the 67-year-old pontiff as though he were a rock star, he preached a doctrine of hope. "We have to aspire to something," he said, alluding to the tragedy of teen-age suicide and the moral ambivalence so often associated with it. "Without hope, we begin to die."
To 1,500 of the nation's most powerful news media and entertainment executives, he issued the challenge of shaping society's spiritual health by resisting "what is debased in people," such as casual attitudes toward sex, greed and violence.
Finally, to more than 100,000 people who filled the Coliseum for an evening Mass that brought a sense of majesty to the aging structure reminiscent of the 1984 Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, the Pope said the people of California "play a major role in shaping the culture of the United States." But he called on them to recognize that "no amount of economic, scientific or social progress can eradicate our vulnerability to sin and to death.
"Technology, for example, increases what we can do, but it cannot teach us the right thing to do," he said.
Although Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony had hoped for a motorcade turnout of 2 million and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates had hoped for 1 million, the city Department of Transportation's lower estimate followed the pattern of smaller-than-expected crowds that have turned up in the first six stops of the Pope's nine-city American tour.
The cause remained uncertain. Well-publicized fear of traffic congestion was blamed in many cities, but a policeman on duty on Olympic Boulevard, where the turnout was sporadic, offered an indigenous explanation: "People in L.A, they're so laid back they're probably saying, 'Well, I'll videotape it and watch it later.' "
Many commuters were so frightened by warnings of potential gridlock that they left for work hours early, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
The pontiff, who visited Los Angeles as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, in 1976--two years before he ascended to the papacy--landed at Los Angeles International Airport at 9:45 a.m. from Phoenix.
A limousine took him to Western Avenue near the Santa Monica Freeway, where he changed to the Jeep-like, enclosed Popemobile and headed through Koreatown, the downtown Civic Center and Chinatown.
Many of those who awaited him had risen before dawn, lugged chairs, sandwiches and coffee to curb sides and passed hours during a balmly if smoggy morning anticipating the Popemobile. They hoisted signs in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Polish and released tens of thousands of yellow and white balloons--the Vatican's colors--into the air as the pontiff passed.
Some came in festive groups, ranging from an international peace choir to a group of Spanish guitarists to a band of Boy Scouts to 500 costumed Mexican cowboys to 1,500 Catholic Vietnamese.
There was literally a police officer on every corner--in most cases, every 50 feet. The Los Angeles Police Department stationed 1,900 of its officers, more than a quarter of the force, throughout the motorcade.
Only one skirmish was reported. At Western Avenue and 18th Street in Koreatown, a group of people holding a large banner decrying the Pope as a "tool of Satan" scuffled with supporters of the Pope. Dozens of police intervened, and the banner was eventually shredded.
Along the route, the Pope returned the cheers of the crowd with gentle waves and smiles.
Trying to anticipate the Pope's penchant for getting close to people in spite of security precautions, the faithful jammed themselves most densely near the end of the route and at the beginning, hoping that the Pope would slow the Popemobile and stay within sight--and possibly within reach.